A writer, Erdoğan told Prospect the story of her arrest—and of her country’s frightening descent into authoritarianismby Ismail Einashe / June 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
Asli Erdoğan recalled the day she was arrested. It was about 3pm on 16th August, 2016; she was taking a nap in her Istanbul flat when she heard a loud knock at the door. “Who is it?” she asked. A voice shot back, “It’s the police.” She told them she was not dressed, but they knocked again and threatened to force their way in.
I spoke to Asli, one of Turkey’s most celebrated writers and human rights activists, on the phone recently. Her repertoire includes novels, short stories and literary journalism. She is known for her defiant voice, and two of her novels have been translated into English. Today, she is due in court, having previously been arrested for “disrupting the unity” of the Turkish state. Her voice quivered a little as she considered this prospect.
Then she continued with her story, explaining that when she relented and opened the door, several masked men came into her apartment. A man in black mask put a gun to the back of her head: “I had to put my hands up,” she told me. Up to 30 security officials ransacked her apartment.
“They searched my flat, and my books, and they took letters I had written years ago.” These were to be used as evidence against her. She was taken to court on 20th August and jailed for pretrial detention. “I am a 50-year-old woman, I have never been to court except for my divorce, so you can understand my shock.”
Her crime was, the police told her, membership of a terrorist organisation. Her writings for Özgür Gündem were the real extent of her transgression, she explained. This was an opposition newspaper with links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which for decades called for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. The paper was shut down during the state of emergency in Turkey following last year’s failed coup against President Tayyip Erdoğan.
In her words, Asli was arrested because she “crossed the line” in writing about human rights violations in Turkey. Her case has prompted an international outcry over freedom of expression in Turkey. Erdogan came to power in 2002, and his already authoritarian style of government has lately taken an even more extreme turn: the country is now jailing more journalists than China. (Alev Scott wrote…