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Jailed journalist Yücel 'only gets a peek at the sky'

Julia Hahn Istanbul
May 8, 2017

German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel has been held in detention in Turkey for over two months. DW spoke to Safak Pavey, an opposition member of the Turkish parliament, and one of the few who are allowed to visit him.

Deniz Yücel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Schindler

Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Germany's Die Welt newspaper and a dual Turkish-German national, is being held in pre-trial detention in Istanbul's Silivri prison. He was arrested in February and accused of spreading "terrorist propaganda" and "inciting hatred." Pre-trial detention can go on for up to five years in Turkey.

DW: You visited Deniz Yucel in prison recently. How was he doing?

Safak Pavey: Deniz' psychology and internal power are amazing. He is really courageous and strong, although he is in solitary confinement and may not be receiving the letters that are being sent to him, because they are not being delivered. He is also very appreciative of all the solidarity from across the world.

What does he tell you about the conditions in his cell?

His cell is four times six meters, so very little movement. He has no contact to other prisoners. From the little patio that is connected to his cell, he can hear sounds and voices from other [prisoners] from the corridor, but he can't see them. From the patio he can only get a little bit of sunshine and a peek at the sky, because they took the decision to [cover the patio in] barbed wire, also the ceiling. This was introduced recently to prevent prisoners from exchanging messages.

Read: Turkey's constitution guarantees press freedom - but that's not the whole story

He has access to some Turkish newspapers and he listens to radio. More than anything, he is concerned about being connected to the world, to the news. This is his passion.

We try to bring humor into our conversations as much as possible - and Deniz is a master of it. The other day when we were talking Deniz said: "You know when I look at the prison library, I see many Turkish authors' names who are actually serving prison time. So my advice to other authors is: Beware you [could end up] here any time."

All prison visits follow strict rules. What is the standard procedure?

Family members get open visitation - which means they can hug him or shake hands in an open environment - only once a month. As a member of parliament I have the privilege of having an open visitation each time I get granted a permit. That means we are taken into a designated room. Of course, this is always under the watch of a "guardian." There are cameras. I am never sure whether we are being filmed. In this room, a table is prepared for us and there are two chairs on each side. Deniz is brought to the room while I am waiting there. After 20 minutes I am given a sign, and then I ask if I [will be] granted another 20 minutes - we try to [get permission for] an hour or so. Since he is staying in a cell on his own, I try to stay with him as much as possible and hug him on behalf of his loved ones, family members, his friends. I bring him messages from them - I act as a messenger for him to connect with the world.

When Deniz Yücel married his girlfriend a short while ago, so she could get visiting rights, you were an official witness to the ceremony. What was it like?

This occasion gave us all a piece of happiness. I took part in the preparations, carrying messages back and forth, since his girlfriend had no visiting rights. It was a joy for everyone, including the two "guardians" who watched this happy occasion between the two lovers, just to see them after 40 days reuniting again, hugging, saying great words to each other. When we got out of the prison, we gathered for a dinner party, but we all missed Deniz. But it was also a hopeful reunion: From this moment his now wife could visit him at least once a week. 

Safak Pavey
Safak Pavey is one of the few people who have the right to visit Deniz Yucel in prisonImage: DW/J. Hahn

Why have you been trying to help Deniz Yucel? 

I am here to make sure Deniz' conditions are well, and he doesn't feel alone in this solitary cell he is being arbitrarily held in. So far, there is no prosecution case against Deniz, there is no concrete charge - so there is no crime. But there is punishment - and this is the irony. Like many other journalists, he is being kept under arrest in a prison on the basis of no [formal] accusation.

I can't even call Deniz a prisoner, because he has basically been taken hostage in my eyes - like many other journalists who are staying in Silivri as detainees, as arrestees. It's an unlawful, arbitrarily prolonged detention period. It's very difficult for me to call them prisoners.

The legal system in my country is not there anymore to provide justice, but rather works as machinery for propaganda and punishment by the government to punish every voice as they wish.

Read: Council of Europe votes to place Turkey under human rights monitoring

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his position clear, saying Yucel was a "terrorist" and an "agent," and that he would not be handed over to Germany before he is put on trial. What are your hopes for Deniz Yucel's future?

First of all, [it must be clear what the] prosecution's case is. It has to be a fair trial, and [the process] has to be speeded up, because every day that Deniz is serving in that prison is against any principle of human rights and freedoms, press freedom being at the very core. But he has also been denied the right to prove his innocence. He is being used to intimidate people in Turkey further, and on an international level, it's a show of authoritarianism.

Deniz and all other journalists who are being kept hostage right now have to be released, but first we need to know what they are being accused of.

Safak Pavey is a member of the CHP opposition party in the Turkish parliament.