Erdal Süsem

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Authorities have detained Erdal Süsem 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 propaganda charges, the Supreme Court reversed its stance and convicted him in 2011 on gun theft, murder, and other charges and 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, the journalist’s wife, Eylem Şahlar Süsem, told CPJ. 

In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights declined to pursue Erdal’s 2011 case, according to court records

Eylem Süsem told CPJ in November 2023 that the Constitutional Court ordered a retrial in September of that year, and the first hearing was held in October. She said her husband is not being brought to court for the hearings and attends through teleconference. 

CPJ monitored the December 15 hearing in which the 12th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes decided to uphold the sentencing and keep the journalist in prison. Elçin Arı, the current lawyer of Süsem told CPJ that they will appeal the decision once more at the Supreme Court of Appeals. Both the lawyer and the wife of the journalist told CPJ that they do not have much hope in the appeal and they expect the journalist to serve the rest of the sentence. 

Süsem was heard by the court by teleconference and told the court the case lacks evidence that he is a member of any illegal organization and he has committed any crime. The head interrupted him several times, asking him to cut his arguments short. 

Süsem was being held in the Edirne F-Type Closed Prison in the western city of Edirne, his wife told CPJ. She said they are allowed a one-hour visit per week at the Edirne Prison and alleged that visitors are harassed by prison personnel. Leftist publications are not allowed in the prison, and the prisoners can only watch the TV and radio channels the authorities allow, she added.

Eylem Süsem said she cannot go to visit her husband every week for financial reasons, adding that the state would force them to pay to transfer him to a prison closer to Istanbul, which they could not afford. 

In 2022, she told CPJ she expects her husband to serve at least eight more years in prison, although he would be eligible for conditional release earlier. In November 2023, she told CPJ that her husband is in good health apart from minor complications due to his lengthy incarceration.

Dicle Fırat Journalists Association, a press freedom group based in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, published a letter from Süsem dated March 21, 2022. The journalist said he is unable to access the publications he wants, and it takes months to receive publications on arts and literature.

In November 2022, Süsem published a novel titled “Kusursuz Cinayet” (“The Perfect Murder”). 

CPJ’s email to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on November 1, 2023, did not receive any reply.