Imprisoned journalist still has hope for Turkey

Late one night in April 2017, Turkish commandos burst into the Istanbul apartment of Kurdish-German journalist Meşale Tolu and arrested her. Charged with terrorist propaganda, she spent eight months in a women’s prison, five of them with her son Serkan, who was then two years old.

The 35-year-old Tolu has just published a book about her imprisonment, “My Son Stays with Me”, and was interviewed by German newspaper Bild.

“The saddest moments were those when I had to think back on how I was separated from my son and I didn’t know what had happened to him,” she said, adding that she wasn’t able to sleep through the night until she returned home to Germany.

After three months in prison, her son Serkan was brought in to stay with her. During this time Tolu’s husband Suat Çorlu was also in prison, just outside Istanbul, accused of spreading terrorist propaganda. Tolu said her cellmates were happy with the distraction of a toddler, who would regularly be taken to visit Çorlu.

“Time flew by for everyone,” she recalled. “Only after he was allowed to leave the prison over and over again to visit his father in a different prison, he realised that life’s better outside. Then he wanted to leave.”

Tolu fell into depression and lost hope after her son left. Letters from strangers gave her strength.

“I noticed that although the government was trying to isolate me, strangers were opening up to me. It made me strong,” she said.

She was ultimately released and returned home to Germany. But Tolu soon filed a lawsuit to clear her name, and even returned to Turkey for the trial, risking re-arrest.

“I wanted to show solidarity with my colleagues whose suffering is being ignored,” said Tolu, referring to the dozens of journalists, politicians, and activists imprisoned in Turkey. “There are still journalists, lawyers and academics in Turkey who have been charged and are being persecuted. The story is not over until the political situation has changed.

Despite all this, Tolu still envisions a truly democratic Turkey after the departure of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“This kind of Turkey once existed and I firmly believe that it will happen again,” she said, adding that it will take some time. “All institutions have been undermined and equipped with his cadres. Turkey has a long road ahead to democracy.”

Tolu said under Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey is no longer a reliable partner for Germany.

“The AKP has implemented many rules that they fail to abide by,” she said. “The results of the local elections are being appealed, although the AKP has always said that an election outcome reflects the will of the people.”

Tolu still hopes to return to Turkey for work and to live in Istanbul again.

“I love the city and the entire country,” she said. “Although I don’t believe in the Turkish legal system, I want an acquittal. I want the freedom to be able to travel to Turkey. I want the freedom to travel wherever I wish.”