Imprisonment of Zehra Doğan Reminds Us The World Is Not Free For All

Turkish-Kurdish painter and journalist Zehra Doğan was recently sentenced to 2 years, 10 months, and 22 days in prison for creating a painting which depicted the destruction caused by Turkish security forces in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, a Kurdish region in Turkey. This horrific fact makes me conscious of how precious are our freedoms of speech and association. And it reminds me that bloggers and journalists like Doğan in other countries are risking their lives to do what we take for granted – post opinions and news on a blog. 

Ask yourself this: What would it be like if I couldn’t express myself?  Think about this one for a second. Millions of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook status updates daily mean we have the freedom to share anything on our minds. The simple act of creating. People fought hard in the past to achieve this freedom for us and we need to protect it. Believe it or not, it can be taken away from you.

In Doğan’s case according to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, the Mardin Second High Criminal Court in Turkey handed down her sentence because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish forces. But the Art Newspaper reported that authorities arrested Doğan claiming that her artworks proved that she was connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. However, according to Artforum, the court expressed that Doğan’s sharing of the image of her work, featuring current military operations, was the cause for her prison sentence.

The painting of the destruction in the Kurdish town is an artistic rendering of a photo taken by state officials.

The original photo, taken by Turkish authorities
Painting by Zehra Doğan. Courtesy the Voice Project.

The initial trial last summer ended with no sentencing, but Zehra remained in prison until being released December 9, 2016. Her trial continued this month on March 2, 2017, where she was acquitted of the charge of Illegal Organization Membership, but was sentenced to almost 3 years of imprisonment for posting a painting to social media.

“I was given two years and 10 months [jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it,” Doğan posted in a now-deleted tweet as reported by online Turkish journalism and human rights platform Turkey Purge.

 “This is an attack on art and artistic expression,” said Doğan’s lawyer Asli Pasinli to the Voice Projectan international organization committed to freedom of expression and creative activism.

Imagine how many things would not be possible if you didn’t have the freedom to share your ideas, to interpret the world around you. Imagine how debilitating life could be if you didn’t have an outlet for your thoughts and feelings.

If you’d like to help Free Zehra Doğan visit the Voice Project to submit a letter of concern to Ahmet Davutoğlu, Prime Minister of Turkey, Kenan İpek, Minister of Justice.