I was given two years and 10 months only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, they [the Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it.
This week marks two years since artist and journalist Zehra Doğan was arrested in a cafe in Nusaybin, Turkey on 21 July 2016. She is now serving a prison sentence two of years, nine months and 22 days having been convicted of ‘propagandising for a terrorist organisation’ (Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law) in relation to a painting, news article and her social media activity. More details here
To mark the second anniversary of her arrest, we are pleased to publish an exchange with fellow artist Ai Weiwei who wrote to Zehra Doğan as part of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer Campaign in 2017. She was unable to reply for several months as a result of restrictions on her communications with the outside world. To raise awareness of her case, this exchange will be read as part of a celebration of the power of letter writing at our Nelson Mandela centenary event at the Union Chapel on 17 July.
Dear Zehra Doğan,
I received word of your imprisonment under the Turkish authorities. Although I come from an authoritarian society where freedom of speech is limited, it came as a shock to hear that an artist was imprisoned for making a painting reflecting the reality of today. If a state can sentence an artist, journalist, or writer in such a fashion then we are truly living in a dark age where no ideas or creativity can be protected and flourish. Such a society cannot possibly cope with today’s condition where knowledge and ideas are freely exchanged all over the world, where open discussions and criticism are absolutely necessary for a functioning democracy. Only societies that protect freedom of speech and expression can meet the challenges presented by globalisation and have any chance of a positive future.
People have paid a price in the struggle for freedom of speech and expression, which is unfortunate but also necessary. I am impressed by your work and I wish you well. I hope the Turkish government understands the wrongful action they have taken towards artists, journalists, writers and professors and release all prisoners of conscience. I call for your immediate and unconditional release.
24 May 2018
Dear Ai Weiwei,
First of all, I’d like to thank you for the letter that you wrote for me, which has lots of value for me.
It’s very precious for me to receive a letter from an important artist like you who has been oppressed by authorities and imprisoned because of his art.
When I was free, I was following you and your work very closely. Back then, I couldn’t even imagine that I would experience a similar oppression. Maybe I’m foolish, because it’s foolish to not to think about the possibility of experiencing the same.
Now I’m imprisoned because of what I’ve written and what I’ve drawn. Furthermore, they often confiscate my art and tell me that they’ve destroyed it. And also they gave us a communication ban with the outer world because we sang. I think they understand what art really is.
They know how powerful art is and that’s why they’re banning it. Because of this, with the help of your support, I’m holding onto my art with all I have. I know that art will change everything. I believe it with all my heart.
Because of the communications ban, I wasn’t able to reply you sooner. Thanks a lot for your support.
Spread the word
Share details of Zehra Doğan’s case with friends and colleages and on social media. In particular, please join the Twitterstorm from 1-2pm on Saturday 21 July. #FreeZehraDoğan #FreeTurkeyMedia
Send a message of support
Please consider sending a letter or postcard to show support and solidarity – the more colourful the better. Please also consider sharing a photo of your message on social media with the hastags #PENgreetings #FreeZehraDoğan #FreeTurkeyMedia
Zehra Doğan BK-4
5 Nisan Mah. Emek Cad.
Diyarbakır E Tipi Kapalı CİK