Metin Duran, a paralyzed and gravely ill journalist, remains in Turkish prison. (Image via Platform for Independent Journalism)
Dissident journalists and writers in Turkey increasingly face government threats and arbitrary arrests for their work and opinions, but for Metin Duran, the punishments have been even more grotesque.
Duran, 37, has been jailed on terrorism-related charges in Sincan Prison, near Ankara, since March 30, 2018. But he is not aware of where he is or what the court decided about him.
A former journalist for Radyo Rengin, a radio station in the city of Mardin in southeastern Turkey, Duran lost part of his memory, along with his ability to walk and speak, after a stroke that followed a heart attack on October 10, 2015. Yet despite these crippling disabilities, he was sent to prison on March 30 and remains there, the Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reported.
Ahmet Kanbal, the journalist who covered Duran's imprisonment for Mezopotamya, told Gatestone:
"Duran's trial got started in 2015 and lasted for more than a year. He was eventually sentenced to a prison term of three years, one month, and fifteen days. His lawyer then appealed to the Supreme Court; this proceeding also lasted for more than two years. When Duran's punishment was finally approved, he was arrested on his sickbed on March 30."
Duran's radio station was shut down by emergency decree following an attempted coup in 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Two days after his arrival at Sincan, he was placed in the prison hospital due to his severe illness. His brother Zeydan Duran is also present in the prison, to care for him. (Zeydan has not been convicted of any crime.)
Duran's family has appealed all the way to Turkey's Constitutional Court to get him out of prison, but authorities demand the family get a medical report from the country's Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) to prove that Duran is "medically unfit for prison." The family is still waiting for the Council report.
Duran's case is bizarre, but he is far from the only journalist imprisoned in Turkey. At least 183 journalists and media workers in are being held, either in pretrial detention or serving a prison sentence, the Platform for Independent Journalism, P24, reported on August 17.
"Turkey is the world leader in prosecuting and jailing journalists and media workers," according to a 2018 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued last February.
"Turkey has a long tradition of misusing the criminal justice system and overbroad terrorism laws to prosecute journalists, activists, and other government critics," Human Rights Watch (HRW) added in a March 2018 blog post about Erdogan's post-coup crackdown. "Prosecutors have repeatedly applied articles of the law such as, 'inciting hatred and enmity among the population,' and 'spreading terrorist propaganda' to intimidate and silence peaceful dissent both on- and offline."
Another Turkish Penal Code article -- "committing crimes on behalf of an organization without being a member of that organization" -- is also commonly used to target journalists and writers; Duran was convicted of a charge under that article too. Under this law, defendants are prosecuted as if they were actually fighting the state as armed "members" of terrorist organizations.
"Terror doesn't form by itself. Terror and terrorists have gardeners," Erdogan has said in justification of his actions. "These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They water ... from their columns on newspapers. And one day, you find these people show up as a terrorist in front of you."
When jailing journalists is not enough, the government closes their workplaces down. In all, 131 media outlets were shut down by emergency degree following the July 2016, attempted coup. Those included news agencies, TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, printing houses and distribution companies.
On July 30, more media outlets – 12 TV channels and 11 radio stations - were shuttered.
Along with arbitrary arrests, mistreatment and even torture of journalists and media employees are getting alarmingly commonplace in Turkey.
For example, four Turkish journalists faced "torture and threatening and abusive behavior in detention" after a bomb attack on August 10, 2016 in the province of Diyarbakır, according to the International Federation of Journalists.
"As soon as we said that we were journalists, the scale of the profanity changed and we were subjected to verbal and physical abuse," said Serpil Berk, Evrensel and Hayatın Sesi TV Diyarbakır correspondent, one of the detainees.
Hasan Akbaş, who also works for Evrensel and Hayatın Sesi TV, said the prisoners' hands were cuffed behind their back as a policeman "endlessly shouted, 'Shoot anyone who raises their head.'"
Hayatın Sesi TV was shut down. The four journalists were lucky: after a campaign for their release they were freed.
Duran's friends have launched a social media campaign seeking his immediate release from prison. Another of his brothers, Medeni Duran, has started an online petition calling for Duran's release. Medeni wrote that his imprisoned brother Metin "cannot walk, speak, or eat and does not recognize anyone anymore. He can only breathe.
"My brother is paralyzed and confined to bed. His continued imprisonment is an assault against his right to life and means he is being left to death intentionally. We as his family members are worried and ask for his immediate release."
Metin Duran is mute; the international community -- especially human rights groups -- need to be his voice and urgently start campaigning for his freedom.
Uzay Bulut, a journalist from Turkey, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.