Wives of arrested Turkish journalists vow to 'stay strong'
Ahmet Hakan - ISTANBUL
HÜRRİYET photoHürriyet’s Ahmet Hakan interviews the wives of prominent Cumhuriyet journalists who have been under arrest at Istanbul’s Silivri prison for 42 days over a story on Syria-bound National Intelligence Agency (MİT) trucks that were allegedly carrying weapons to fighters in Syria.
Below is Hakan’s full interview with Dilek Dündar, the wife of Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, and Aslı Gül, the wife of the daily's Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül.
1. Dilek Dündar
I miss chatting and laughing with Can the most
You look very well and always smiling.
I feel powerful, not guilty. I believe that they did something good. Therefore, I want to show my attitude with my smile in order to say, “We were not defeated, and we are resisting.”
How did the arrest of Dündar affect your life?
We, as all wives of journalists, are in the same situation. We manage housework and journalists always chase the news. Women always manage housework and the wives of journalists are always powerful women. I mean if Can were free, I would not have worries like, “He would do this or that in this way.” I am managing the daily tasks. But the main problem is that I miss talking with Can very much.
What kind of life do you have with Can Dündar?
Can and I are friends and fellows, and we have a really nice relationship. We have great chats together. He is a very funny person; we always laugh, and I miss those things. Moreover, I have always criticized Can over his writings, and I understood that it was very easy to criticize. I saw that I had to talk and write something and came to the conclusion about how difficult it was after his arrest.
Have you ever been in prison?
Now you are visiting Silivri Prison. What are your observations?
Prisons have interesting jargon and we are not used to them. For example, the guards say, “Congratulations,” during open meetings. I had thought that was said when they are released. To my surprise, they also say that during open meetings.
He is staying in a cell in Silivri. Does he complain about loneliness?
There are lots of things a writer can do alone such as Can.
Is he satisfied with the public reaction?
Of course he is. But how long can this interest last? I am a little bit unsatisfied. I went abroad and people there are much more interested. It seems like there has been a pall over Turkey for a long time. Perhaps people are very tired in Turkey since there are many problems. Which one can they deal with?
What is Can Dündar doing inside?
He was writing a book but had no time. He began to write that book inside. He wanted some books related to the book he is writing, so I brought them for him.
Can he keep books as many as he wants in prison?
He is allowed to keep only 25 books in his cell, and they do not take more than that. So, he gives me the books he has read and I give him new ones.
Can he watch TV? How about visitors?
He can watch any TV channel except Halk TV. He also has many visitors allowed such as lawmakers and lawyers but no more than that. There are a total of 180 names on a list awaiting confirmation at the Justice Ministry, but they have not given their approval.
Who is Dilek Dündar?
Dilek Dündar studied economics at Middle Eastern Technical University (ODTÜ). She met Can Dündar when she was working at daily Söz. Together, they have one son, Ege, who is 20 years old and studying international politics, with expectations of graduating this year. In the past, Dilek Dündar also worked as the general coordinator of “32. Gün” (32th Day), a news affairs program. “I have retired from the social security organization for artisans and the self-employed,” she said about her current work. She lived in Ankara for years but has been living in Istanbul for the last three years.
Many said ‘Do not return to Turkey’
Did you expect that he would be arrested?
We had been expecting it. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had personally threatened him on TV. Some so-called journalists targeted Can on TV, even implying that he should be killed by making it look like a traffic accident. Can had gone abroad many times from the publishing of the report to his arrest day. There were many people who suggested that he not return to Turkey. But he still returned. Democracy should be settled in Turkey. There are two institutions which observe political power. One is the free press and the other is judicial system. Both have received wounds. I do not want to lose my belief in one while the other is arrested.
Won’t shave until release
How often do you meet? How long do the meetings last?
There are four meetings, three of which are closed and one which is open, once a week, each month. Each of them lasts one hour. Closed meetings are held with a phone conversation behind a glass. At open meetings there is no glass wall in between and you can hold hands. In closed meetings, a warning is issued on the phone when it is close to the end of the hour, and the line goes dead after a few minutes. It is forbidden to bring a paper and pencil inside. So I cannot note down what I want to talk about and have to memorize everything. It is always like, “I forgot to say this and that.”
There is no typewriter or computer, meaning he has had to write by hand. Does he complain about that?
He does not complain, but we do. His handwriting is so hard to read. We spend a lot of time deciphering his handwriting. I sit down with my son, Ege, and think about, “What did he mean here?”
What do you talk about in those one-hour meetings? Are they about family issues, politics or things to do about his arrest?
He can take a paper and pencil with him. He pulls notes out of his pocket and reviews conversations with his publisher and international reactions one by one. We talk all about that.
What do you ask most to him?
I ask whether he’s eating or not. He said the food was very good at the beginning but then said it was not so good. They have a canteen there and he orders canned goods. He asks us “How are you?” and we say, “We are good, do not worry.” We are really staying strong. That one hour flies by.
Do you bring clothes to prison?
Actually we have the right to take laundry and bring clean ones. However, Can cleaned them inside a bucket. He goes out to the little yard in front of the cell, but says everywhere there is moss and humidity.
Has he gained or lost weight?
He has lost a little weight. He’s grown a beard and says he won’t shave until he’s released.
2. Aslı Gül
My son said they can’t hold him that long for an article
How many times have you met with Erdem until now?
Three times. Twice with the children in open meetings and once in a closed meeting.
Has loneliness had an effect on him?
He likes being alone and he has no loneliness problem. He is a deep man who loves thinking. He does not like slogans or templates. He does not become party to anything and does not judge anyone. He respects everyone’s views. He loves loneliness but he is also keen on his freedom. He is a free soul.
Erdem Gül followed the Refah (Welfare) Party for years. He had been known as a Refah reporter.
Yes, he used to follow the Refah Party. All party figures in that period including Erbakan know Erdem well. He began to follow the party while it was below the election threshold. Recai Kutan, Mustafa Kamalak, Bülent Arınç, Mehmet Ali Şahin all know Erdem well.
How did their relationship begin?
They had a relationship based on respect and trust. All of them respected Erdem very much.
You have two children; one is six and the other is 10. How did they react to their father’s arrest?
“He is not able to revolt and he has not committed violence against anyone in his life. He also does not express ideas clearly so he should not have been arrested for his writings,” my elder son said when he learned that his father had been arrested. However, my little son is very keen on his father. He looks for him at night with a pillow in his hand … I said, “Your father will stay in a closed place for a while and he will not see you. A referee will decide as if it is a football match.” He asked “Can he eat?” When I said yes, he was relieved and then asked, “What if the referee is a bad person?” Then I said, “Referees cannot be bad.” After a week, he grew tired of the situation and said, “One cannot be held in a prison that long for something that he wrote. Let him be released.”
Is it hard for you?
Of course it is. I have no working life and I am at home. I do not think about doing journalism. I had applied to several consulates as I speak foreign languages and had been waiting for an interview, but then this happened.
What changed in your life?
I am also like Erdem and I do not like being in the spotlight. So, it is hard for me.
Who is Aslı Gül?
Aslı Gül is from Ankara and has two children, Deniz, 10, and Sarp, 6. She has worked as an economy reporter at Yeni Yüzyıl, Habertürk, Dünya and Akşam, along with Kapital and Ekonomist magazines. She has been among the ranks of jobless journalists for some time.
Never forced to retract report
You are also a journalist. How do you evaluate Erdem Gül as a journalist?
Erdem is a full reporter. He does not think about anything other than journalism. He has never been forced to retract any report up until this time. He only wants to put journalism at the forefront. He would be very saddened at the fact that his picture is circulating.
How was he arrested?
He learnt that he had been summoned to testify during a TV program. He did not expect to be arrested.
Erdem does not want comfort
How is his morale?
Erdem is a person who does not look for comfort. He was living outside just the way he lives inside. He does not want anything from life.
I have been with Erdem for 20 years. He has not requested a glass of water from me up until this day.
How could he reach that point?
He disciplined himself very well.
Everyone is in isolation in Silivri
He is said to be held in isolation. What does he say about that?
He is against isolation discussions. He says, “Everyone is in isolation at Silivri Prison. This is technically a prison which projects isolation.” … He says “isolation should be opposed for everyone.” But, this is not the primary issue; the primary issue is unjust arrest and punishment without judgment.
NOTE: The interviews were conducted shortly before the ending of Dündar and Gül’s isolation.