Erdal Süsem has been detained since February 2010 on charges of helping lead the outlawed Turkish Maoist Communist Party, or MKP. The charges, for which he was sentenced to life in prison in May 2010, relate to Eylül Sanat Edebiyat Dergisi (September Arts Literature Magazine), a leftist culture magazine that the journalist started while in prison for an earlier arrest in the 2000s.
In a letter published in February 2012 by the independent news website Bianet, Süsem said he had been detained on the MKP accusations and charged in February 2010. He said the evidence against him consisted of journalistic material such as books, postcards, and letters, along with accounts of his newsgathering activities such as phone interviews. Süsem made similar statements in a letter to the Justice Ministry that was cited in news accounts.
Authorities alleged that Süsem’s magazine produced propaganda for the party.
Süsem started the magazine, which featured poetry, literature, and opinion pieces from imprisoned socialist intellectuals, during an earlier imprisonment at Tekirdağ F-Type Prison. After producing the initial four editions on a photocopier from prison, Süsem transformed the journal into a print publication after his 2007 release and circulated 16 more issues.
In September 2017, the journalist’s lawyer, Fazıl Ahmet Tamer, told CPJ that a court in May 2010 found Süsem guilty of being a leader of the banned group, and sentenced him to life in prison. According to Tamer, prosecutors said that the magazine being produced by prisoners was evidence of Süsem’s ties to an illegal organization. Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the verdict on September 24, 2011.
Süsem’s earlier imprisonment stemmed from allegations in March 2000 that he stole a police officer’s handgun that was later used in a murder. Süsem pleaded not guilty to the gun theft and murder charges. The gun possession and related charges against Süsem were twice rejected by Turkey’s Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 and 2007 that there was insufficient evidence to link Süsem to the crimes.
However, without new evidence, after Süsem was imprisoned in 2010 on the propaganda charges, the Supreme Court reversed its stance and convicted him in 2011 on gun theft, murder, and other charges. The court also reinstated a life sentence.
The court proceedings that led to his conviction were marked by inconsistencies. For example, in his Bianet letter, Süsem wrote that the police officer, whose stolen gun was later used in a number of crimes, testified that Süsem was not the person who had stolen it. Witness descriptions of the suspect did not match the journalist, Süsem’s wife, Eylem Şahlar Süsem, told CPJ.
Eylem Süsem told CPJ in a phone interview in September 2021 that her husband was being held in the Edirne F-Type Prison, in the western city of Edirne, and that his health was good.
She said she was not able to see her husband for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as of late 2021 she was able to travel from Istanbul to Edirne for monthly visits. She said the journalist did not have any complaints regarding abuse or mistreatment, but he was unable to access the books, magazines, and newspapers he wanted.
Eylem Süsem said the journalist had appealed his case to the Constitutional Court of Turkey about 18 months ago, but had not received any reply. In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights declined to pursue Eylem’s 2011 case, according to court records.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2021 for comment, but did not receive any reply.