Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal receives freedom of expression award

Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal receives freedom of expression award

Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal receives freedom of expression award

DHA photo

The Turkish Publishers Association’s 2016 Freedom of Opinion and Expression Award has been extended to veteran journalist Hasan Cemal, in a show of solidarity after a local court decided to confiscate two of the author’s books concerned with the Kurdish problem. 

The editor-in-chief of Everest Publishing, Cem İleri, and the owners of Gül bookstore, which was burned down by a nationalist mob attack in the Central Anatolian province of Kırşehir in September 2015, were also recognized by the association. 

“I have done nothing but journalism over the past 47 years but I could never escape the wrath of courthouses. I was never imprisoned but I frequented courtrooms,” Cemal explained, in his address at the ceremony held on June 1.

“We had colleagues who were jailed, oppressed, killed. The suffering doesn’t end but the struggle continues,” Cemal added. 

The award came after two of Cemal’s books, “Delila / Bir Genç Gerillanın Dağ Günlükleri” (Delila / Mountain Diaries of a Young Guerilla) and “Çözüm Sürecinde Kürdistan Günlükleri” (Kurdistan Diaries during the Resolution Process) were charged with “spreading terrorist propaganda to the extent of encouraging violence” and “praising crime and criminal activity” after being seized from a cell where suspected militants of the outlawed Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) were detained in December 2015. 

A local court on Dec. 4, 2015, ruled for the confiscation of the books, arguing they spread terrorist propaganda and praised criminal activity.

The owners of Gül bookstore, Eşref Odabaşı and Sait Akıllı, were also awarded, as their shop was burned down by an angry mob which walked the streets of Kırşehir for about seven hours and set ablaze some 32 shops, as well as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) building.

“I am taking this award in the name of those who were sentenced for expressing their opinions, those who died during Gezi [the nationwide, anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013], for those imprisoned for making news and for the innocent people who are being massacred in the east of my country,” Odabaşı said.
Finally, İleri received the prize in the name of Everest Publishing, which functions as part of Alfa Publishing House, as books by three of the company’s writers, including Cemal, were confiscated upon a court decision.

“We are standing behind our complete works of 7,000 books and everyone who put effort into their publishing, most notably, our writers,” İleri said in his speech, adding he was happy to see their publications were of use to people. 

Concerns over freedom of expression have been on the rise in Turkey, as evident in the 2016 report of Freedom House which suggested that media freedom in Turkey had “deteriorated at an alarming rate in 2015,” with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “aggressively [using] the penal code, criminal defamation legislation and the country’s antiterrorism law to punish critical reporting.”