Identity and the core of press freedom – my defence

(This is the English version of my defence in the trial against me, read out in Turkish in Diyarbakir court on 8 April 2015.)

When I saw the sentences the respected prosecutor had copy-pasted from some of my writings from last year, I immediately wondered if I should draw on these writings in my defence. For example, there are a few sentences from a piece I wrote for a conference at Istanbul’s Biligi University, about Kurdish identity. I wrote about a student I spoke to in Van, who talked about his deliberations on whether to go to the mountains or not. It had everything to do with identity, because in his view, you had to know yourself really well before you could choose to be a guerrilla. And he postponed really looking at himself because he was so afraid that he would conclude that there was no guerrilla in him. ‘Maybe’, he said, ‘I will find out that, despite everything, I prefer to live inside the system I am fighting against’.

I'm talking to the press after my trial, in front of Diyarbakir court house, 8 April 2015.
I’m talking to the press after my trial, in front of Diyarbakir court house, 8 April 2015.

‘Recruiting people for the “terrorist separatist organisation”’, the respected prosecutor decided. This kind of annoyed me. This interview was part of a story about Kurdish identity, in which I argued that the Kurdish struggle has strengthened but also politicized Kurdish identity, and that this politicization also undermines the way Kurds can fully live who they are. After all, politically active Kurds are not only Kurds, but also fathers, mothers, teachers, lawyers, farmers, villagers, city dwellers, you name it. If fundamental rights are denied to a whole people, it hampers their ability to freely live as who they are, either because their sense of Kurdishness is artificially low or artificially high.

I found that a rather nuanced view on Kurdish identity. But the respected prosecutor took a few sentences out and with one strike of a pen turned my piece, based on talking to many people and reading a lot about identity and Kurdish history, into ‘recruiting’ and ‘propaganda’. I find that disrespectful towards my work.

But then I thought: in a judicial way, it doesn’t really matter in which context I wrote those words. And the same counts for all the other sentences the respected prosecutor decided to cherry pick from my writings. In whichever context I had used that interview, it should not be punishable to publish an interview with whoever. That’s the fundamental part of press freedom.
For the same reason, I decided not to point here to writings of mine in which I criticize the Kurdish armed or unarmed political movement. It is not relevant. I am a professional, independent journalist, paid only by the independent media I work for. I have never committed any crime in my writings, like calling for violence. On the contrary: on several occasions I have written explicitly about my wish to be a peace journalist.

When I thought more about this court case against me, I figured out why exactly it bothered me so much that the respected prosecutor took sentences out of the context I put them in. After all, I just argued that the context isn’t relevant in the scope of press freedom. Why does it hit me at the core of my being?

It hits me at the core of my being because it touches upon my identity. I am a woman, I am Dutch, I am a citizen of Diyarbakir, but most of all, I am a journalist. I take pride in my profession, I carry it out as meticulously and independently as possible, I constantly think about how I carry out my beloved profession as professionally as possible, and this is a very big part of who I am. And then there comes the prosecutor, who tries to deny that.

But there is no denying. I am a journalist, even if you portray me as a propagandist.

I plead not guilty.

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