Turkish journalist Hatice Duman (right), during a visit with a family member in Bakrıköy Prison in 2016. Duman is serving a life sentece. (Photo courtesy Duman family)

After 20 years in prison, Turkish journalist Hatice Duman says she has no hope of release

Hatice Duman is Turkey’s longest-serving jailed journalist. Now 50, she has been behind bars since April 9, 2003, 20 years into a life sentence on charges including propaganda and being a member of the banned Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP).

Duman, a former editor for the socialist Turkish weekly Atılım, has denied the charges and the Committee to Protect Journalists, which reviewed the available court records of her trial, believes them to be unsubstantiated. Turkey’s Constitutional Court found that her right to a fair trial had been violated and twice ordered a retrial. Duman, meanwhile, remains at the Bakırköy Women’s Prison in Istanbul and holds out little hope that the retrial – already several hearings in – will bring her freedom.

In November, Beril Eski, a lawyer and journalist, spoke to Duman on behalf of CPJ about her conviction, her life in prison, her hope of returning to journalism – and her reaction to a recent raid where prison officials confiscated coats, blankets, books, her radio, the personal diary she has kept for 20 years, court documents regarding her trial, and even her desk and blank pieces of paper. Duman said she and other prisoners were dragged on the floor during the raid and that she spent four days in isolation afterward.

The interview, translated from Turkish, has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Eski: Tell us about your arrest, interrogation, trial, and conviction process? Were you mistreated or tortured? 

Was it really a court of law or was the verdict already decided? The trial lasted for 10 years. The sentencing was done three months shy of 10 years because the statute of limitations would have come into effect, and we would have been released if 10 years were past [with no conviction]. Then the case went back and forth to the Constitutional Court of Turkey (AYM). 

I was kept awake for four days in [police] custody. The interrogation lasted day and night. I had hallucinations. I was conscious, there was no physical torture, but they did not let me sleep; [they] probably drugged me. I asked for a blood test from the medical staff. My stomach was hurting a lot [and] was making sounds. But the medics insistently refused to do a blood test.

I did not testify during [police] custody. They wanted me to sign a statement they had prepared; I refused. It was the same at the prosecutor’s office, too. I refused the prosecutor, he punched me, attacked me. I still did not sign. We filed criminal complaints to the court but did not get any results. 

What is the status of your retrial?

Three hearings were held since the AYM ordered the second retrial. I wanted to attend the sessions in person, but my request was denied. I attended through teleconference [and] my request to be released was denied anyway. 

My conviction needs to be overturned but it does not get done. I have served 20 years; my family is waiting for me to be released. I offered my defense [to the court] but I’m not sure if it was looked at. They are trying to have me identified by witnesses about events I had nothing to do with. I do not have a hope for being released anymore. I do not get my hopes up because otherwise I couldn’t manage to carry on in prison.

[Editor’s note: The fourth hearing of Duman’s retrial, which included several defendants, was heard by the 12th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes on December 9. It lasted two-and-a-half hours and did not address any of the charges against her. Duman who attended by teleconference, told the court that the confiscation of her legal documents during the prison raid had violated her right to prepare for her defense. The court denied her request to be released pending trial and set the date for the next hearing for March 31.]  

You have been convicted on very serious charges of terrorism. Why do you think you were targeted?

I’m a socialist journalist. The only evidence in the case against me is the testimony of my ex-husband. They made him testify by telling him that they would rape me otherwise. He [later] renounced his testimony, told [the court] that I was not involved [in what I was accused of.] The evidence supported what he said, but the court disregarded it. We were given the harshest sentences. Police have told me that I wouldn’t leave the prison [until I was old enough] to walk with a stick if I didn’t sign their prepared testimony. [Under Turkish law, a life sentence without parole is 30 years.]

Describe Atılım to us?

Atılım is a socialist magazine that I was reading since my college years. I started to work as a reporter there after college and then made news editor. We always have been systematically oppressed. I was taken into [police] custody during my first field assignment. Being taken into custody and oppression never stopped. I was in court every week. I continued to write [about politics] for Atılım [from prison] until I stopped because of other work. I’m also facing charges of writing [terrorist] propaganda for two of my latest articles.

How is your health?  

I suffer from hypertension and arrhythmia. They are currently giving me my medicine but there is no regular monitoring [or] follow-up. I have not been given a device to measure my blood pressure. I have had hypertension for 20 years; [authorities] were more concerned [about the prisoners] 10 years ago. My [blood] pressure has increased, especially in the last five years [but] there has been trouble with going to the infirmary. For example, I have trouble with my ear and I experience balance problems. However, I cannot get examined for that. Hospital visits are made in handcuffs and the soldier [who accompanies the prisoner] enters the exam room. You cannot get examined because the soldier is there. It is not just about being naked, there is an ethical understanding about privacy in doctor-patient relations.   

How do you spend an ordinary day in prison? 

I don’t have much of a routine although I want to have one. I have breakfast in the morning. I listen to the news from Açık Radio. I do work; I read books. We exercise during meal breaks, sometimes we play volleyball. Birthday celebrations happen, sometimes I help arrange activities. I wanted to take a calligraphy class, but I wasn’t allowed. We all wanted to take a Zumba [dance] course but they do not allow us any such activities, I don’t know why. The ordinary prisoners [those not convicted on terror-related charges] are allowed to attend concerts and activities. There was an activity organized for the ordinary prisoners on the day of the raid. They were playing music to them while raiding us. 

How are your prison conditions?

We’re a 36-prisoner ward and there have been times that we’ve had 36 people here. We are 12 now. This used to be a jail [as well as a prison], which meant those already convicted were with people still awaiting trial. I was able [then] to connect with different people from the outside. It was good because otherwise I would forget about the outside. But jailed people do not come here anymore, so I don’t have that now.  

What do you want to do when you’re free? Do you want to practice journalism again?

I would want to practice journalism very much. Twenty years in prison is a very long time. I am very angry at the system. But I would want to do journalism. 

I get forgetful about the outside. For example, I missed photography a lot. I asked for my camera many times, they won’t give it. I don’t even have a desk, let alone a camera. I would do things that I have missed the most when I’m out. Unless my family locks me in (laughs).

I would be me when I get out, as I am here. I cannot stand inequity and injustice. I’m studying. I have graduated from [an] international relations [course], now I’m studying Islamic sciences at the open university. However, there is a problem about books and resources. We have a limit of seven books at a time and you wait two months for a new book.