Farcical indictment shows how far Turkey has fallen


Index on Censorship condemns a criminal indictment sent to a Turkish court against 16 civil society leaders including artist Meltem Arikan, actors Memet Ali Alabora and Pinar Ogun, and journalist Can Dündar.

“This farcical indictment shows how far Turkey’s government is willing to go to silence dissent and should show the world how much freedom of expression has degraded for all of the country’s citizens,” said Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship.

The criminal court has 15 days to examine the indictment charging the 16 with attempting to overthrow the government for their part in the 2013 Gezi protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government came to power in 2002. Almost six years after the protests during which tens of thousands people across Turkey took the streets, the 16 named in the indictment now faced a possible lifetime behind bars without the possibility of parole, according to a report in Ahval.

Arikan was nominated for a 2014 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award in the arts category.

The other 12 individuals named in the indictment are: Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Tayfun Kahraman, Hakan Altınay, Gökçe Yılmaz, Can Atalay, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Mine Özerden, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi.[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1550765322731-f7944837-909a-0″ taxonomies=”55″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkey: “Trial is in itself an act of intimidation”


Osman Kavala. Credit: Anadolu Kültür

Osman Kavala. Credit: Anadolu Kültür

We, the undersigned human rights and freedom of expression organisations, condemn the interim judicial decision taken in the second hearing of the Gezi Park trial. The indictment accuses 16 civil society figures and arts practitioners in Turkey of having planned to “attempt to overthrow the government” and of having financed the peaceful Gezi Park protests. If found guilty, they face a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

We share the view that “the trial is in itself an act of intimidation”, having been opened 6 years after the Gezi protests took place in 2013. We are extremely concerned that this trial may once again contribute to creating a chilling effect on the fulfillment of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression and the legitimate right to protest as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. We call for a concerted response by the European Union and Europe Member States to put urgent, consistent and collective pressure upon the Government of Turkey to restore the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey.

On 18 July 2019, the judicial panel decided to reject the requests of defence lawyers for the release of Osman Kavala from 21 months of pre-trial detention and for the lifting of judicial control measures, including the travel ban, on the other defendants. Sarah Clarke, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia, said: “This decision represents a disturbingly clear example of the continuous absence of the rule of law and lack of independence of the judiciary in Turkey.” The indictment itself shows the total lack of tangible evidence for these allegations.

We strongly object the continuing pre-trial detention of Osman Kavala, who has now been in a maximum-security prison for 631 days. Kavala said in his defence statement, “I was never asked to make any statements during my time in detention or in custody with the police in relation to the allegations against me. I was not questioned by the prosecutor at any time after I was arrested. The indictment was prepared 16 months after I was arrested and this too indicates that there was no evidence to hand.”

Grounds for Kavala’s arrest are insufficiently supported in the indictment, raising serious concerns relating to the proportionality and legitimacy of his arrest. The lengthy pre-trial detention, which started 4 years after the Gezi Park protests took place, is unwarranted and disproportionate as a legal precaution against the defendant’s absconding or posing a ‘threat to society’. The excessive length of Kavala’s pre-trial detention of 21 months, his rights to presumption of innocence, to humane treatment, to the right to a fair trial and to liberty and security have all been violated in the most unnacceptable manner.

The 16 individuals named in the ruling are: Osman Kavala, Meltem Arikan (pictured), Memet Ali Alabora, Pinar Ogun, Can Dündar, Mücella Yapıcı, Tayfun Kahraman, Hakan Altınay, Gökçe Yılmaz, Can Atalay, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Mine Özerden, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi. (Photo: Wikipedia)

During the second hearing, defence lawyers argued that the evidence collected between May and November 2013 in relation to the Gezi protests was “re-evaluated”. In an earlier case drawing on some of the same evidence, an Istanbul court in 2015 acquitted all 26 defendants (including two of the defendants in the current Gezi Park case, (Mücella Yapıcı and Tayfun Kahraman). In the current case, the court has failed to take into consideration that 2015 judgement.

Furthermore, the defence demonstrated the inappropriateness of the charges under Article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code which clearly includes the reference to an “act of force or violence” in the definition of the offence. The 2013 Gezi Park protests represented a peaceful and non-violent movement. The actual excessive use of force was that used by the police against civilians including the extensive use of teargas against the crowds. The indictment, as the defence lawyers proved time and again, contains no reference to an armed organisation (as per Article 314 of the Turkish Criminal Code), which further questions the basis of the accusations.

Norwegian PEN President, Kjersti Løken Stavrum said, “We will continue to monitor this trial and to advocate for all charges to be dropped against the 16 defendants. The fact that the 657-page indictment, bereft of concrete evidence, was accepted by the judicial panel is sadly, once more a clear indication of the poor state of the rule of law in Turkey.”

The next hearing of the Gezi Park trial will take place in Silivri on 8-9 October 2019, when other defendants will be heard and plaintiffs’ requests will be evaluated by the court.

Articolo 21
Danish PEN
ECPMF (European Centre for Press and Media Freedom)
English PEN
Front Line Defenders
Index on Censorship
Norwegian PEN
OBC Transeuropa
PEN America
PEN Flanders
PEN International
PEN Netherlands
PEN Suisse Romand
PEN Turkey
RSF (Reporters Without Borders)
SEEMO (South East Europe Media Organisation)
Swedish PEN
Swiss Italian and Reto-Romanch PEN Centre
Wales PEN Cymru[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1563959006215-1e666f90-a594-0″ taxonomies=”55″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkey’s thought-provoking playwrights, actors and directors have little choice but to become exiles


Enough Is Enough cast members

Enough is Enough is a play formed as a gig, tells the stories of real people about sexual violence, through song and dark humour. It is written by Meltem Arikan, directed by Memet Ali Alabora, with music by Maddie Jones, and includes four female cast members who act as members of a band.

For Turkish director and actor Memet Ali Alabora, theatre is about creating an environment in which the audience is encouraged to think, react and reflect. His goal is to leave the audience thinking about and questioning issues, whether it be democracy, free speech, women’s rights or the concept of belonging.

Alabora has always been fascinated by the notion of play and games, even as a child. “I was in a group of friends that imitated each other, told jokes, made fun of things and situations,” he says. The son of actors Mustafa Alabora and Betül Arım, he was exposed early on to the theatre. In high school, Alabora took on roles in plays by Shakespeare and Orhan Veli. He was one of the founders of Garajistanbul, a contemporary performing arts institution in Istanbul.

For Alabora, ludology — the studying of gaming — is not merely about creating different theatrical personalities and presenting them to the audience each time. Rather, it is about creating an alternative to ordinary life — an environment in which actors and members of the audience could meet, intermingle and interact. For those two hours or so, participants are encouraged to think deeply about and reflect upon their own personal stories and the consequences of their actions.

“I think I’m obsessed with the audience. I always think about what is going to happen to the audience at the end of the play: What will they say? What situation do I want to put them in?” the Turkish actor says “It’s not about what messages I want to convey. I want them to put themselves in the middle of everything shown and spoken about, and think about their own responsibility, their own journey and history.”

“It’s not easy to do that for every audience you touch. If I can do that with some of the people in the audience, I think I will be happy,” Alabora adds.

It is this desire to create an environment in which the audience is encouraged to take part, to reflect, to think that Alabora brought to Mi Minör, a Turkish play that premiered in 2012. Written by Turkish playwright Meltem Arıkan, it is set in the fictional country of “Pinima”, where despite being a democracy, everything is decided by the president”. In opposition to the president is the pianist, who cannot play high notes, such as the Mi note, on her piano because they have been banned. The play encouraged the audience to use their smartphones to interact with each other and influence the outcome.

Alabora explained the production team’s motivation behind the play: “At the time when we were creating Mi Minör, our main motive was to make each and every audience if possible to question themselves. This is very important. The question we asked ourselves was: if we could create a situation in which people could face in one and a half hour, about autocracy, oppression, how would people react?”

The goal wasn’t to “preach the choir” or convey a certain message about the world. It was to encourage the audience not be complacent. “Would the audience stand with the pianist, who advocates free speech and freedom of expression, or would they side with the autocratic president?” Alabora asks.

Alabora considered was how people would react when faced with the same situation in real life. “They were reacting, but was it a sort of reaction where they react, get complacent with it and go back to their ordinary lives, or would they react if they see the same situation in real life?”

On 27 May 2013, a wave of unrest and demonstrations broke out in Gezi Park, Istanbul to protest the urban development plans being carried out there. Over the next few days, violence quickly escalated, with the police using tear gas to suppress peaceful demonstrations. By July 2013, over 8,000 people were injured and five dead.

In the aftermath, Turkish authorities accused Mi Minör of being a rehearsal for the protests. Faced with threats against their lives, Arikan, Alabora and Pinar Ogun, the lead actress, had little choice but to leave the country.

But how could a play that was on for merely five months be a rehearsal for a series of protests that involved more than 7.5 million people in Istanbul alone? “You can’t teach people how to revolt,” Alabora says. “Yes, theatre can change things, be a motive for change, but we’re not living in the beginning of the 20th century or ancient Greece where you can influence day-to-day politics with theatre.”

The three artists relocated to Cardiff, but their experience did not prevent them from continuing with the work they love. They founded Be Aware Productions in January 2015 and their first production, Enough is Enough, written by Arikan, told the stories of women who were victims of domestic violence, rape, incest and sexual abuse. The team organised a month-long tour of more than 20 different locations in Wales.

“In west Wales, we performed in a bar where there was a rugby game right before – there was already an audience watching the game on TV and drinking beer,” Alabora says. “The bar owner gave the tickets to the audience in front and kept the customers who had just seen the rugby game behind.”

“After the play, we had a discussion session and it was as if you were listening to the stories of these four women in a very intimate environment,” he adds. “When you go through something like that, it becomes an experience, which is more than seeing a show.”

After each performance, the team organised a “shout it all out” session, in which members of the audience could discuss the play and share their personal stories with each other. One person said: “Can I say something? Don’t stop what you are doing. You have just reached out one person tonight. That’s a good thing because it strengthened my resolve. Please keep doing that. Because you have given somebody somewhere some hope. You have given me that. You really have.”

Be Aware Productions is now in the process of developing a new project that documents how the production team ended up in Wales and why they chose it as their destination.

“What we did differently with this project was that we did touring rehearsals. We had three weeks of rehearsal in six different parts of Wales. The rehearsals were open to the public, and we had incredible insight from people about the show, about their own stories and about the theme of belonging,” Alabora shares.

Just like Mi Minor and Enough is Enough, the motivation behind this new project is to encourage the audience to think, to reflect on their own personal stories and experiences: “With this new project, I want them to really think personally about what they think or believe and where this sense of belonging is coming from, have they thought about it, and just share their experiences.” [/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner content_placement=”top”][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

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Index encourages an environment in which artists and arts organisations can challenge the status quo, speak out on sensitive issues and tackle taboos.

Index currently runs workshops in the UK, publishes case studies about artistic censorship, and has produced guidance for artists on laws related to artistic freedom in England and Wales.

Learn more about our work defending artistic freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1536657340830-d3ce1ff1-7600-4″ taxonomies=”15469″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Meltem Arikan: The difference between Wales and Turkey


Enough Is Enough cast members

Enough is Enough, a play formed as a gig, tells the stories of real people about sexual violence, through song and dark humour. It is written by Meltem Arikan, directed by Memet Ali Alabora, with music by Maddie Jones, and includes four female cast members who act as members of a band.

While touring Wales recently with my new play Enough Is Enough, I thought about what I experienced with my earlier work in Turkey. But which Turkey?

In the so-called “New Turkey”, everything is being surveilled by the government, from plays and books to everything you share on social media. There were no undercover Welsh police or prosecutors sitting in the audience in Newport or Pontypridd.

We designed Enough is Enough as a touring project. We went to 21 different Welsh venues in 21 different places, north, south, east and west, in less than a month. Audience members had strong positive reactions and some suggested that the production should be taken into schools. In the New Turkey even thinking about taking the play to schools would be enough to be accused of something unimaginable. If you dared sing the songs sung in Enough is Enough, you can be sure you would receive a violent reaction.

When you confront reality in a direct way, even if it is through art, governments around the world do not want to hear your voice. The New Turkey’s government is only an extreme example. When you speak truths, governments do not want you to be heard – they do not want you at all.

Yet when you show reality in a direct way, when you slap the audience with pain, the reaction becomes the same everywhere. First they are shocked, then they find you unusual, but in the end they compliment you for doing it.

During our tour of Wales, people let us into their hearts, looked after us and many venues promised to invite us again. Audience members shared their stories with us. Many wanted to work with us, others supported us unconditionally.

After every performance we had “shout it all out” sessions. We heard repeatedly how many of the issues we confront on stage – sexual violence, oppression and misogyny – are being swept under the carpet because people don’t like to discuss them.

These sessions took me back to a time before I wrote Mi Minor, the play accused of being a rehearsal for the Gezi Park protests in 2013. A time before I had to leave the country because of those accusations. A time before the innovations in the New Turkey was not as horrifyingly obvious as they are now. A time when the AKP, the ruling party of Turkey, was backed not just by the liberals in Turkey but liberals around the world. Back then I was told I was wrong about the government. It was in 2007 that I wrote a play entitled I am Breaking the Game.

That play premiered in Zurich and toured to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Istanbul and Ankara. No matter where it was performed there was a particular reaction that stuck with me: “These issues are not our issues, they belong to the East.”

I was inspired by the stories of people I know personally. I was in touch with the victims of domestic violence, honour killings, rape, incest and sexual abuse. I knew all stories were true. So I wasn’t sure why then so many didn’t see these issues as theirs. I searched and searched for this place far away from everyone and everything, where all these horrible things keep happening, called the “East”. Eventually I found myself in the West.

After graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, actor Pinar Ogun felt inspired by Breaking the Game. She felt angry that the run of the play was short in Turkey and she became passionate — almost obsessed — to stage it in London. She tried to convince her instructors at LAMDA, artistic directors of various venues and theatre friends to make it happen. She even introduced me to a couple of people who showed interest, but the reaction was again the same: “Of course these issues are very important but these issues are not our issues, they belong to the East. We resolved these issues in the 1970s. Such plays, performances have been done in the past. These are very old discourses.”

Laurie Penny was one of the only people who had a different reaction. She interviewed me nine years ago: “However much she is hounded by Turkish authorities and tutted at by European theatre goers, one thing is certain: Meltem Arikan is not about to roll over and hush. And thank goodness for that.”

When slapped in the face does it hurt less in the West than in the East?

Why is it considered a social phenomenon when women are killed in the name of honour in the East but an individual crime when women are killed in the name of passion, obsession or jealousy in the West? Child marriage in the East is seen as a nightmare. But, in the West, does calling pregnant children “teen moms” prevent their lives from turning into a nightmare?

After I was forced to leave Turkey and began living in Wales, Ogun restarted her campaign to stage I am Breaking the Game. A year ago, I finally said yes. I’ve been observing a West that has been dazzled by the light of past enlightenments, alienated from its very own issues, attached to the chains of concepts and utterly disconnected to its reality. With Ogun’s company, Be Aware Productions, we applied to Arts Council Wales for research and development funding. But even after the grant was awarded, I was afraid I would still hear the echoes of the long-dead rejection: “These issues are not our issues, they belong to the East”, “the stories of the East”, “The East…”

My rejections, my questions, my issues.

During our research process we met with Welsh sex workers, organisations that help and support women facing violence, and victims. My initial idea was to replace these new stories with the stories in the play, but then I decided to write a new play entirely.

I developed the play with stories of abuse, rape and incest from Britain, all true stories, all had actually happened in these lands. Sometimes I used the exact words of the victims, sometimes I made them more poetic, but most importantly, in order to reach the hearts of the audience, I decided to use the magic of music and that’s how the idea of making it a gig-theatre came to be.

My rejections, my questions, my issues.

When writing Enough is Enough, my intention was to become a megaphone to the people who are facing violence here, to point to the elephant in the room by talking about incest and to underline the fact that when it is about the existence of women and men, those in the West and those in the East were the same.

I dare to say this because I can see blatantly that no matter how much cultures, cuisines, languages, clothes, ethnical backgrounds have managed to differentiate each and every one of us, no matter whether we were born in the West or in the East, we’re all forced to have the life forms designed by the patriarchy and so we are all dominated by the same fears for thousands of years.

Just like the East, the West also lives in its own virtual world built on the concepts of the patriarchal culture. And the relative comfort of this world doesn’t mean a thing for the victims. Just like Turkey, just like France, just like Yemen, just like the USA, women, children and men in Britain become victims. Abuse, rape and incest endlessly continue to exist with all its savagery within society, behind closed doors. The pain and consequences of this ongoing violence continue to be ignored.  And while children become the children of fear, not the children of their parents, all around the world violence continues to beget violence. Those who face their pain empathise with victims, whereas those who escape their pain empathise with the perpetrators.

During the Wales tour, the reaction from people who were violated, who knew what violence was, who did not escape from their pain, who faced themselves, who were not in denial of their experiences, in short, the reaction from people who knew the pain of reality, was warm, open and stripped-down. We received the biggest support from women’s organisations, women, some brave men, young people and the LGBT community.

On 8 April 2017 at the Wales Millennium Centre and from the 26-29 April at Chapter Arts Centre, we will continue to say “Enough is Enough”. This time our goal is to reach promoters and artistic directors for an England tour. We want to make our voice be heard in England, and shout “Enough is Enough” together with the English audience.

I really wonder about the reaction of the audience in England. Will they be as open as the Welsh audience or will they keep repeating their apologies while saying these are the East’s problems. The irony is that this time we will be coming from the West, at least west of England.

Yet, whatever the reaction of the audience in England may be, I know for sure there won’t be any audience members who try to organise a mob against us.

Whatever the reaction of the audience in England may be, I know for sure the play would never be banned with the accusation of “disturbing the family order”.

Whatever the reaction of the audience in England may be, I know for sure that newspapers won’t run a smear campaign against the actors because of our play.

Whatever the reaction of the audience in England may be, I know for sure I won’t receive any death threats just because I dared to address violence against women. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.

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