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.
In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights declined to pursue Eylem’s 2011 case, according to court records. Eylem Süsem told CPJ via messaging app in September 2022 that the Constitutional Court of Turkey had yet to hear her husband’s appeal, which was filed in 2019.
Süsem was being held in the Edirne F-Type Closed Prison, in the western city of Edirne, his wife told CPJ.
She said her husband does have any serious health issues, although a mass was removed from his neck about a month earlier and they are waiting to hear about the results of the biopsy. She added that the journalist sometimes experiences delays accessing medical care.
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 that are allowed by the authorities, 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 for his transfer to a prison closer to Istanbul, which they could not afford.
She said she expects her husband to serve at least eight more years in prison, although he would be eligible for conditional release earlier.
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 that it takes months to receive publications on arts and literature.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2022 for comment but did not receive any reply.