Turkey’s longest-serving inmate enjoying freedom

Turkey’s longest-serving inmate enjoying freedom

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey’s longest-serving inmate enjoying freedom

Canan spent a total of 32.5 years in prison on charges of being a member of an outlawed organization and was released last week thanks to a recent law. Daily News Photo, Emrah Gürel

Turkey’s longest sentence serving convict, Tahir Canan is adjusting to his newfound freedom, ending his ordeal of 32 years behind bars.

A symbolic convict of the 1980 military coup, Canan was released on April 30 in accordance with the fourth judicial package, ending his ordeal of 32 years in prison. He was sentenced to 36 years in prison on charges of murdering two right-wing advocates in 1978.

“From now on, I will start my life like a newborn child,” the 60-year-old Canan told the Hürriyet Daily News, three days after his release, “I have to survive; otherwise, I would have to destroy myself.”
Until his release, Canan never saw his youngest son, who is now 20 years old. His wife Gülnigar Canan raised their four children by herself. Only a day after his release, Canan directly headed to the demonstration protesting against conflicts between the government and unions on Labor Day. “The outer world has changed a lot in 32 years, while I was behind bars,” he added. “However, the external world has also turned into a concrete jungle and humans have become mechanized.”

In 1978, Canan was sentenced to 36 years on charges of murder and being a member of the Turkish Revolutionary Communist Party. After 13 years, he was released on probation. A year later, he married Gülnigar Canan, his second wife. However, he was charged for “having children distribute political statements” in Malatya, and given a sentence of 12 years and six months.

“I was a left-winger, and everyone would know me. When two right-wingers were killed, police detained me without evidence. I was released on probation during the 1990s. Then I headed to Malatya and began selling towels. And they detained me again since I am an ex-convict. They stole my years, my life and my family from me,” he added.

The file of Canan currently awaits a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Canan and his family spoke to Hürriyet Daily News during their visit to Istanbul.

“They unjustly stole my years, and must pay its account,” Canan said. I was subjected to the greatest tortures. They tore my hair and moustache. They gave me electric shocks. My friends were victimized to the point of unidentified murders. I will become their voice outside,” Canan said.

His wife Gülnigar Canan said, “I was 31 when my husband was arrested. I raised four children while he was away. I faced many hardships as a woman living alone.” His 20-year-old son, İmran Kaya Canan, who is currently a student at Ankara University, said it was very strange to call someone “dad” after all these years.

“Rebuilding a father-son relation is very hard. I shaped my relation with my father according to prison conditions. Now I must adapt to this. Now there aren’t thick walls and bars between us. But there are years stolen from us,” he said.

‘Unidentified murders must be questioned’

Canan said he was exposed to both physical and psychological violence during his first years in prison. “I was subjected to every kind of torture. I stayed in a cell for three years. They are now behaving as if freedom was bestowed on me thanks to the fourth judicial package. But the judiciary only maneuvered. I was thinking that I was forgotten in these 32 years. I tried to make contacts with press but they did not listen to me. The state also forgot me,” he said. Canan also criticized the ongoing Ergenekon coup plot case. “Only the coup aspect is being questioned within the case. Why don’t they question what happened to those victimized in unidentified murders? Weren’t they the citizens of this country? Many of my friends were killed by unidentified persons. My survival is a bare coincidence. I will struggle for the rights of [my dead friends],” he said.

İmran Kaya Candan said he faced many difficulties especially in his childhood years. “Only a few of my friends know our family’s situation. Friends can be very cruel at those ages, so I hid all my experiences,” he said.

Gülnigar Canan said they suffered a great deal during her husband’s prison years. “When İmran was a newborn baby, and my other son was still a little child, we paid a visit to their dad. They received our nursing bottle and diapers. They detained my elder son when he raised his voice. When he was outside, he was covered in bruises. I experienced such great fears,” she said.