Newly-released journo offers insider view at victims of Turkey Purge

Date posted: August 28, 2016

Briefly detained for taking photos of the street next to the Istanbul’s Gayrettepe Police Station, the journalist Tuğba Tekerek has talked about her detention period, shedding lights on what people, jailed as part of the government’s ever-increasing crackdown on the Gülen Movement, get through behind bars.

“I was wondering if I would stay by myself or with an inmate in the cell. When the iron gate was opened, I saw tens of shoes. And a heavy smell…27 people were living in both three cells, which are supposed to fit for only 3 to 5 people each,” Tekerek said in a frankly-written article, published after she was released from one-day detention.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt that killed over 240 people and wounded a thousand others, on July 15. Immediately after the putsch, the government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement and launched a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Some 82,000 people have been purged from state bodies, nearly 40,000 detained and 20,000 arrested from all walks of life since the coup attempt. Arrestees included journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics, governors, teachers, court personnel and even a comedian.

Here is full translation of the Tekerek’s article that was published by the Istanbul-based Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) on August 26.

“Exchanging curtains during State of Emergency

The allowed period for exchanging the curtains that I bought a few weeks ago was about to run out. I got out of my home in Gayrettepe neighborhood heading to Cevahir Shopping Mall at about 7 pm, on Sunday evening. I was planning to exchange my curtains and take for a walk at the same time. I saw people waiting for their relatives under custody, outside the Gayrettepe Police Station. I also had been here for my fellow colleague, journalist Bülent Mumay and my coach, the poet Hilmi Yavuz, three weeks ago. It seems as if this place has kind of turned into a grief station. Those with their babies and elderly people were among the people standing there on that Sunday evening. Some were carrying folding picnic chair with them. They were desperately awaiting a crumb of information. I took some photos of the people there in case I use them in my future stories or in a tweet, and I moved ahead. I had to exchange my curtains.

After a while, a man run up from behind and stopped me. He said he was a police officer. He asked my identification card and I showed it. Then he asked why I was shooting photographs. I said: ‘I am a journalist, I wanted to photograph the situation the people were in.’ Then he replied: ‘Maybe, there will be an attack against the police station and you were there to case the joint.’ I said I just took the photos of the people and the station wasn’t caught in the frame anyway. Other journalists had already taken millions of photos outside the station. Without daring to check out my photos, he said: ‘Come with me!’ He also wanted to seize my cell phone but I said I would do so only if an official report was prepared for it.

Thus, I suddenly found myself inside the police station. While they were searching my names on their records, they began talking with me. I didn’t look like a bomber but I guess I was not a quite acceptable journalist for them either. They asked if I was writing a story about the schools shut down by the government and if I worked for critical daily, Taraf. I was held under their surveillance without undergoing any official process for hours. Nobody would know where I am and if anything happened to me as no official transaction was made.

When I said ‘You cannot hold me under custody without any record,’ a police officer slammed shut the door, banged his fist on the table and said: ‘There are emergency rules in force. We can keep you in here without any record till the morning and do whatever we want if we want to do so. And you file a complaint once you are set free.’ As they had no record, they did not let any of my relatives about the situation, either. He added something like: ‘If you are worried about your relatives, you do not take photos in the middle of the streets. I ignore any such incidents even they take place next to me, I don’t dare to look behind, thinking of my beloved ones.’ The shopping mall had already been closed and I felt that I was about to be thrown into a well.

Then, they said somebody was calling me and things started to change after this moment.

I was lucky that I had enough time to give a phone call to my lawyer friend from P24, Veysel Ok when the police officer called me to inside the building in the first place. Veysel reportedly phoned me back; failed to get an answer. When he curiously called the Gayrettepe Police Station, he was told that no record was made on behalf of ‘Tuğba Tekerek.’ My friend did not count upon the response and stopped by the station. I was really lucky, somebody from outside knew that I was there and it would not be that easy for police to do something to me.

Police officers somehow reached to the prosecutor only after my lawyer showed up at the station. And then, they let my relatives know about the situation and took my interrogation. Meanwhile they found my latest tweet and decided to accuse me of insulting the President, thanks to their super (!) intelligence efforts. Photographs or the main reason for why I had been there was already forgotten. In the tweet, I quoted a tweet of Cumhuriyet newspaper which has a video embedded on it. In the video, people were chanting: ‘Murderer Erdoğan!’ in protest of AK Party deputies’ condolence visits to the families of the victims of the recent ISIL attack in Gaziantep. I summarized it in my own tweet saying: “This is where we stand now. Erdoğan is “Murderer Erdoğan” for many Kurdish citizens from now on.

This tweet was found sufficient for them to detain me and it was the time for me to get in jail.

In Jail, with Clerks of Court

I was wondering if I would stay by myself or with an inmate in the cell. When the iron gate was opened, I saw tens of shoes lined up there. And a heavy smell…27 people were living in both three cells, which are supposed to fit for only 3 to 5 people each. All were on the floor, lying down with their legs curled up since they had no enough space to stretch their legs. Later on, I was told that they had been 43 people and some even had slept along the corridors, a few days ago.
It was about 3 in the morning when I was put into the cell. Women under custody asked me if I was a clerk at a court. While I was still trying to understand the question, they said ‘We are all clerks. …We used to work at Anadolu Courthouse.’ 24 out of 27 were clerks. They had all managed to type 90 words in three minutes in the exam to become clerks. But now, they were detained for being a member ‘FETÖ.’ [an abbreviation coined by the government in order to describe the alleged terrorist network of Gulen Movement within state institutions]

They all surrounded me although it was almost midnight. They were yearning for any small news and asking to me: ‘What is happening.’ They were there for the past 7 days and denied permit to meet their family members. They had no lawyers. Attorneys appointed by bar associations as legal aid were not willing to meet them either. (Rumors even have it that police officers from departments other than terror units are also involved in operations against ‘FETÖ.’ When police officers call for lawyers for any detainee they willingly show up thinking that they would defend murder suspects. When police officers tell them that they would defend members of ‘FETÖ,’ they do not come by.)
I can’t describe what I saw on their faces when I told them that I was detained because I took photos near the Gayrettepe Police Station. Because people whom I took photos of were their relatives that they had been longing to hear from. ‘Did you see that boy?’ ‘Was there that woman?’ questions rained over me. Inmates are mostly aged between 25 and 30. Most of them have babies. The 7-month-old baby was brought to its detained mom from Sultanbeyli, a two-hours-away district, twice a day for breast feeding. But she is among the luckiest ones because other women, even if they have 15-month-old babies, are not allowed to see their children. Whenever this mom meets with his 7-month-baby, some others take a seat back and weep softly. They dream of their children or mothers as missing themselves.

There was a pregnant woman who often stay out of conversations dealing with her own problems. Difficulties she gets though are written all over her face. Back in the normal life, she had been studying law apart from his profession but she now hates the law. She was in maternity leave when she was detained. When she knew about the search warrant issued against her, she went to the prosecutor and said: “I want to surrender myself.” She has another daughter who is 3.5-year-old. ‘I have almost forgotten the face of my baby. I wish I had taken one of her pictures with me,’ she said in tears. Another one interrupted: ‘They would not allow to do so anyway. There is even no mirror here.’ Yes, this is the place where people may forget even their own faces.

The light inside the cell was always switched on regardless it was night or day. We didn’t know the time as our watches are seized when entering. The sun light reflected from the wall across our 10-cm-window is the only thing we got to know the time. I was told that police let women to shared courtyard only when they want. They let them to do so for 5 minutes the other night, for example. They allow toothpaste at their own will.

We were like stuck in the engine of an air conditioner that makes constant, scary voices. I tried not to think hot temperature and the fact that I was facing difficulty in taking breath. We didn’t know how long all these will take.

I couldn’t say a single word when they asked me: ‘Is there any reaction to our arrest out there?’ Then one of the replied: ‘What did we use to say when others were being arrested? We used to say: “Ah, innocents would be released inshallah!” That’s it. Now some others probably wish the same for us.’

One of them: ‘I tried to issue a credit card from Bank Asya in 2014. Bank Asya was the only lender to give me a credit card. That is my only fault.’ The other one was thinking that she was detained because she had been answering phones at a [preparatory class] dersane affiliated with the Gulen Movement seven years ago.

And the other woman asks: ‘I have never gone to their dersanes, I have never received loans from Bank Asya. I have never attended any meetings of them and I have never read Zaman newspaper. Then, why am I here?’

The purpose of authorities was to pull them down and wangle words out of them. Nearly 20 of them who had been earlier interrogated by prosecutor were told that they were arrested. But, I learnt after my release that almost all of them have been set free.

They were held under custody without any news from outside and they were misled as well.

I was called by police at about 11 am the next morning. I left the cell guilt ridden that I still feel. I know that independent media outlets, even if few were left, including P24, Ben Gazeteciyim İnsiyatifi [ I am a Journalist Initiative] looked out for me. I resisted the situation with their help. But it is much harder for the women inside to do so.

The Courthouse: Journalist Grinding Machine

We left the custody and firstly headed to doctor. (Like before my detention, doctor examined me in front of police officers in defiance of regulations. She even did not give an examination but asking if I was battered or not.) My lawyer Veysel Ok was waiting for me at the Çağlayan Courthouse when we got there. We went up to the prosecutor. He picked my files among the pile of others, take a quick look and started to write down something on them without asking any question.

Veysel and I looked at each other. I can be arrested taking into consideration that I was detained while on my way to exchange my curtains. ‘What do you writing’ I asked anxiously. ‘You are free, you are free,” he said. Meanwhile, I had a new case for insulting President but we could deal with it later on.

While I was leaving, [another journalist] Fehmi Koru walked into the prosecutor’s room. [Recently-closed daily] Özgür Gündem’s edit-in-chief Zana Kaya and its managing editors İnan and Zana were on the line, as well. As Veysel summed up, the Courthouse was working like a ‘Journalist Grinding Machine.’

You may ask ‘what’s up with the curtains?’ Well, I exchanged them despite several warnings from relatives. Though I sweated bullets and by using the same road… What’s more is that I brought messages of the people whom I shared the same fate with for a night, to their families. They were in the 10th day of their detentions, they were still waiting for their interrogations.

P.S. I take one certain lesson from what I got through: Solidarity is of crucial importance. In this respect, I thank P24, Yasemin Çongar, Veysel Ok, Fatih Polat, friends from Ben Gazeteciyim İnsiyatifi and those who give support to me and spread the word on the agenda.”

Source: Turkish Minute , August 28, 2016

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