Wishing a Happy Bayram despite everything

Wishing a Happy Bayram despite everything

In the “advanced democracy” provided by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkey is celebrating the Islamic Eid al-Fitr, Şeker (Sugar) Holiday or simply Ramadan Bayram. Every year there is an incredibly huge controversy over how the religious holiday should be called. It is a pity of course that people have been wasting their energies with such trivial discussions.

This is one of the two most important religious holidays in Islam. Each of these festivities, of course, has its own importance. The celebrations of Eid al-Fitr or the Sugar Bayram of the Muslim world will start on Tuesday or Wednesday at the end of a 30-day fast and therefore deserves to be called a festival. Eid al-Adha, or the Sacrifice Holiday, serves as an occasion when wealthier members of society sacrifice animals and share the meat with their poorer neighbors, thus helping teach younger generations the importance of “not going to bed while the neighbor has an empty stomach.”

According to Islamic culture, religious holidays must be periods during which people put aside their old enmities, hatred and anger and embrace each other in peace and friendship. Unfortunately, in Turkey and in most parts of the Muslim world, religion and religious feelings appear to have been taken hostage by some zealots.

It has become a tradition to send congratulatory messages on such important religious holidays to loved ones if visiting and personally extending holiday greetings is not possible.

This year, I would like to send a bayram message to a set of colleagues who for this or that reason are compelled to mark the religious holiday in prison cells, either as “detainees” or “convicts.” After all, most of the inmates in Turkish prisons are “detained,” some of them waiting to see a court, many of them hoping their endless trials come to an end one day, resulting in their release. Despite the right to individual petitions at the Constitutional Court and all the rulings of the high court that extended detentions constitute a serious “rights violation,” this problem continues to be a serious headache for Turkey.

Believe it or not, there have been court cases continuing for the past many years and people who might be sentenced to a far lesser period in prison are being deprived of their freedom and compelled to spend their youth in prison cells. The political authority cares little for such problems and does not feel the need for judicial reform. Instead, it has been trying to achieve “enhanced democracy reform” through changes to the trade law, enhancing the scope of the trustee mechanism. Two media groups were devastated this year by court-appointed trustees. Almost 1,000 journalists joined the already around 7,000 unemployed journalists after the Koza and Feza groups – alleged to have been supporting the Gülen religious brotherhood, which is accused of being a “terrorist network” – were “domesticated” by the court-appointed trustees. Apparently, that was not enough for the government. If the law is to be changed along the lines demanded by government, the freedom of investment will become a fairy tale in this country because any private company might be placed under the control of trustees by court orders for the most trivial of charges.

Religious holidays are important. Families come together, join hands around the lunch or dinner table and energize themselves with the strong bonds they still have despite all the challenges of life. Journalists are not above laws and have no immunity, and no one has any intention of demanding anything for those deprived of their freedom other than justice. Demanding their release and expressing solidarity with colleagues behind bars or a newspaper constantly targeted by the government cannot be a crime. 

There were 37 journalists in prison this month. The last-minute release of Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of Journalists Without Borders (RSF), and academic-writer Şebnem Korur Fincancı brought the number down to 35. On Friday Ahmet Aziz Nesin was released as well. What relaxation? Some 34 journalists in prison is a very high number but a further saddening detail is hidden in the numbers. Of those 35 journalists in prison, a shockingly high number of 18 are detained; that is, they have been deprived of their freedom without being sentenced. Detention, of course, is an instrument used everywhere. But, in civilized countries, I believe, the number of detained inmates of prisons cannot exceed those of sentenced ones.
So I’m happy that Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were released by courts days before the religious holiday. I sincerely hope other scribes behind bars – Abdulkadir Turay, Ali Konar, Bilal Güldem, Cebrail Parıltı, Erdal Süsem, Erol Zavar, Emin Demir, Ethem Çağır, Feyyaz İmrak, Ferhat Çiftçi, Gurbet Çakar, Hamit Dilbahar, Hatice Duman, Hidayet Karaca, Kamuran Sunbat, Kenan Karavil, Mazlum Dolan, Mehmet Baransu, Mehmet Hakkı Yılmaz, Meltem Oktay, Mikail Barut, Miktat Algül, Muhammed Doğru, Mustafa Gök, Nedim Türfent, Nuri Akman, Nuri Yeşil, Sami Tunca, Serkan Aydemir, Seyithan Akyüz, Şahabettin Demir, Şermin Soydan, Yılmaz Kahraman and Ziya Ataman – will as well be able to join their loved ones soon.

I want to express my hope that all colleagues serving because they insisted on defending freedom of expression or freedom of the press, spoke critically of the AKP government or showed the courage to stand tall in solidarity with colleagues in trouble may find the chance to celebrate the next religious holiday together with their loved ones.

After all, I wish everyone a happy bayram.