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Imprisoned poet and painter, Zehra Doğan, writes to PEN

Tuesday 13 February 2018 - 11:07pm

Zehra Doğan and Ai Weiwei

Update - 25 February 2019

Artist and journalist, Zehra Doğan, was released yesterday from Tarsus prison in Mersin, Turkey, after serving over five hundred days behind bars. Doğan was given a prison sentence of two years, nine months and 22 days on a charge of ‘propagandising for a terrorist organisation’ for her work as a painter and journalist. Doğan should never have spent a day in prison.

While we welcome her release, her imprisonment is a stark reminder of the difficult situation for free expression in Turkey, and the hefty price those who criticise the authorities are forced to pay.

PEN International reiterates its call to the Turkish authorities to end their crackdown on freedom of expression and release all those imprisoned for their peaceful exercise of this fundamental right.

‘Each letter day, I get so many letters from PEN members and I am engulfed by very beautiful feelings.’

Journalist, painter and poet Zehra Doğan is serving a prison sentence of 2 years, 9 months and 22 days. We highlighted Zehra’s case last year on Day of the Imprisoned Writer – 15 November 2017 – and we have just received this letter from her:

Dear Carles Torner and members of PEN 

I have been receiving your letters for a while. Each letter day, I get so many letters from PEN members and I am engulfed by very beautiful feelings. I suppose in places such as these where everything is banned, only the strength of a single pen they cannot resist and hence give up. However, they are also aware that this is a great force. It is because they know that writing is a magical force that they are left hopeless against it. And I, in your person, enjoy the defeat that those who have jailed me have demonstrated. I can feel myself with you, always and perhaps this is why I never feel helpless. This is thanks to you. 

Thank you very much for the membership you have granted me. With best wishes and in the hope that we meet very soon.

Warm regards, Zehra  Diyarbakır E Type Prison

In July 2016, Zehra Doğan was charged with ‘propagandising for a terrorist organisation’ and membership of a terrorist organisation. She spent four and half months in pre-trial arrest, prior to her release pending trial on the first of these charges, the latter having been dismissed. On 24 March 2017, she was convicted of ‘propagandising for a terrorist organisation’ under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law by the Second High Criminal Court of Mardin province and sentenced to 2 years, 9 months and 22 days in prison. She was taken into custody on 12 June 2017, while she was on her way to visit her family. Since her arrest, Doğan has been held in Diyarbakır Prison.

The criminal charges against Doğan relate to a painting, a news article and her social media activity. The painting at issue is her recreation of a photograph taken by the Turkish military and disseminated by social media accounts linked to the Turkish security forces. The picture was taken during the five-month curfew imposed on the town of Nusaybin, which was a site of the conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party). You can read more about her case here.