Hamza Yalçın: "Media freedom needs political rights, courage and solidarity"

After almost two months in Spanish extradition detention Turkish-Swedish Hamza Yalçın walks free. In this emotional letter he thanks the Freedom-of-Expression community for its solidarity. It was read out loud at ECPMF's conference "Defending journalists under threat".

Hamza Yalçın Hamza Yalçın released from prison in Spain after almost two months in extradition detention (photo: privat)

To the Conference,

Thank you all for your attention and solidarity. I believe that there can be no freedom in the world if it is not supported by networks of solidarity.

Now, I will tell you about my days of imprisonment in Barcelona.

I thought that they could deport me and hand me over to Erdoğan's government in Turkey. Then, the rest of my life at best would be spent in jail as I had already been sentenced to life imprisonment in Turkey. I would be disposed off in any case. But your solidarity work stopped them.

My friends from Odak, the media, political parties and institutions, individuals for freedom, like you, supported me and it changed the atmosphere. Even my lawyers from the foundation of Baltasar Garzón worked on my behalf for solidarity. They worked well and finally the government took a decision to stop my extradition process. My friends in Spain said that it was extraordinary because the Spanish government would normally deliver the case to the court. It was a big success for solidarity for the freedom of expression.

But unfortunately the Erdoğan government has partly achieved its aim by the Interpol order and my arrest in Spain. That arrest and jail time contributed to our isolation from the Turkish people. I personally and Odak, the paper I write for, and the movement of education and solidarity that I work for - all have been pointed out as terrorists. Even family, people from our close relations in Gothenburg asked if I really were a terrorist. Turkish people have distanced themselves from us.

"I was treated like a criminal"

The imprisonment crushes your work and even your personality. When I was in jail in Barcelona I was treated like a criminal, a drug dealer, for example. The criminals didn't get respect as human beings. Neither did I as a writer. It was one of the most difficult aspects of the imprisonment.

Your intellectual and political existence is denied there.

"Everybody here is equal", they usually replied when I asked for a computer and internet access. This was a negative equality which meant "You are no longer an intellectual here and we don't care about your political aims and work". According to this kind of equality there was no difference between a drug dealer's and my reality and needs. The need for a computer to write and to get access to the internet, to get information and to communicate is much more important for me than for a criminal. Getting articles and books was also very difficult in jail. The jail forces you to lose your intellectual abilities. It was really a big challenge.

I often talked to myself as if I was communicating with my late father. "Where are you baba, can you see me, can you hear me?" I often asked. Perhaps I defended my humiliated honour by doing so. I was aware that my father was proud of me, though he had never expressed it in words. I needed respect and support. If my father had seen me, I could feel that he would be proud of me, he would support me with love and devotion. I also thought about my mother who had always been proud of me and devoted to me. As she was old, it could be very difficult for her to come to prison to visit me every week, I thought, and that made me sad.

Then I thought a lot about my honourable friends whom I lost or who were in jail for more than 15 years. That helped me to get strength. I sometimes thought about the Kurdish leader Öcalan in jail as well. He has been in isolation in prison since 1999.

My son, my wife, my home

One of my biggest concerns was about my 14-year-old son. I would not be able to meet him any more as we had usually met, would not be able to admire his handsome appearance and would not be able to watch him growing up either, I thought. I thought of my wife, of course, and my city Halmstad.

The new life affected my intellectual capacity to the extent that I could hardly trust my own observations, perceptions and judgements. My self-confidence was also damaged to some degree. Writing helped me to pull myself together.

I rediscovered the importance of receiving postcards in jail! As regards the media freedom, I think the media is not free anywhere in the world because there are power elites everywhere. In some places, it is better - as is the case in Sweden. In others, it is getting worse as it is in Turkey.

There are a lot of brave people who challenge oppression and take risks for freedom. I think three main factors are important for media freedom: Political rights, courage and solidarity. We should struggle for the right of freedom of expression. And we should be brave and strong in solidarity.

Hamza Yalcin