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Turkish Journalist Füsun Erdoğan Released from 300 Year Jail Sentence

Turkish Journalist Füsun Erdoğan Released from 300 Year Jail Sentence

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Sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 300 years, Fusun Erdogan went from a hard-working radio journalist in Istanbul to being confined to a prison cell. For two years after her arrest by plainclothes police in September 2006, Erdogan, who holds Dutch and Turkish citizenship, didn't even know her crime. Overall, her trial lasted more than eight years.

After months of pressure from civil rights groups, government officials and family members, Istanbul's 20th High Criminal Court ruled for Erdogan's release on 8th May along with two other journalists and five activists on the grounds that her pre-trial detention exceeded a new legal limit.

Alexandra Waldhorn spoke with Fusun's son, Aktas Erdogan, who has regularly met with European politicans and rights activists to help secure the release of his mother.

This interview was initially broadcast on 11th May by Radio France Internationale.


Alexandra Waldhorn: How did you react when you first learned that a law passed last March which reduced the detention limit for people on trial from 10 to five years could apply to your mother?

Aktas Erdogan: When the law came we thought that she would be released right away, that was our hope. And the lawyer said the same thing, and even the prosecutor said that she should be released. But then the judge just refused it two times so it didn't really happen. There were also people in the same situation, law wise, but these people were released, like murderers, or the soldiers but she was not released in the first place.

AW: What do you think helped influence the court's decision to apply this law to your mother's case?

AE: The international pressure helped a lot. The European Journalist Federation brought the case to the international awareness and also parliamentarians from Turkey. There was also protests from Holland and Turkey so people knew about it. It was all the time on the news. A few weeks before we were in Strasbourg. We had meetings with the European Parliamentarians and the European Human Rights Commiserate. So all these things together it was a big pressure

AW: Can you tell us about your mother's career. She had left Turkey after the coup in 1980 and lived in the Netherlands. But she returned in 1989 to Turkey. Can you tell us about her journalism career from this point on?

AE: She was first back to Turkey in Istanbul. She started in a newspaper and then in 1996 she founded Özgür Radyo (Free Radio) and in a few years it became very popular. In the first three years it was in the first 10 in Istanbul. She worked hard for it and every morning, in the early morning, she was reading the newspapers. Right after she founded Özgür Radyo in 1996, she was arrested and she stayed in prison for one year and a half. And the reason this time it was because they took her with my father, he was also a journalist. And the reason for my mother was actually she was helping my father and it was on the paper actually. They were living together anyways so if you call one of them terrorists, the other one will be a terrorist as well. And later on the The Radio and Television Supreme Council in Turkey, we call it RTUK, shut down the radio station three times but my mother fought against it in the European human rights courts. She won all the cases so the radio was turned on again and reasons why they shut down the radio was also really funny. It wasn't a reason. One time she read something from the newspaper from the real mainstream newspaper, and the radio was shut down because of that. And many years later she asked some of her friends who works for this organisation, “Why did you do this to our radio all the time” and they said we had know idea, they just forced us to shut your radio down and we had to do it because they were forcing us.

AW: Why do you think the authorities targeted your mother on more than one occasion and what angered them so much about your work?

AE: I think if people listen to your radio or read your newspaper, if you become popular then whatever you say that they don't like, then you are a criminal to them. It's not only the case of my mother, it's a big problem in Turkey now, press freedom.

AW: Did your mother ever talk to you about the conditions she faced in jail?

AE: I know she had a lot of problems going to hospital. It took like two years to have an operation. She got throat cancer in the beginning. But it took two years to get to the hospital because of the prison and bureaucracy, it was not very good. And they did not let them wear boots in the winter because they said it was only for soldiers. Perhaps they fought against these things and then in the end they had better conditions. But I’m not sure generally.

AW: How is your mother doing now?

AE: She is sleeping less but she is very happy. Finally she is with her family. We couldn't meet yet but I'm calling her like 10 or 15 times a day now, the last two days. It is also weird to me because normally we have a ten minutes talking on the phone when she was in prison. And that was once a month or every two weeks. And we had to talk about everything we could in ten minutes, it was so horrible. But now I'm just calling her and talking for half hour, one hour.

AW: What does her release mean for the long run, have the charges been dropped or is she facing an appeal still?

AE: We have to wait till the higher court ends. She can't go to Europe. It's forbidden for her. She could go back and stay in prison for her lifetime. Or they could just finish the case in a positive way for us, we are just waiting.

AW: Are you optimistic?

AE: Yes, we are optimistic. The case is not over yet so we have to do some stuff for that because it's still a danger for her. We will ask to the European Parliamentarians and Turkish supporters to see the case and also to visit the higher court as an eyewitness so at least everything will be fair.

AW: Going back to the trial, which dragged on for years. From what I understand it took two years for your mother to know what the charges were that she was facing. How would you describe the legal process hat she faced after her arrest?

AE: We waited for more than two years doing that time. I think because we waited they had nothing to charge my mother. And in Turkey from what I heard from the lawyers they do it with many cases. They just keep you in prison for two years so they can prepare themselves to charge you. It was really disappointing. How can you keep a person without telling them what did they wrong.

AW: You were very active in reaching out to organisations, government, really advocating for her release. What kept you going?

AE: After some time we lost our hope in Turkish authorities and its legal system. We were always optimistic because she was innocent. But in the end, we thought we had to do something. My aunt started three years ago and then it got bigger and I got started doing something as well and other family members, so it became a really big thing in Turkey, Germany, and Holland.

AW: Looking at the broader picture for Turkey. It's a notorious jailer of journalists for two years coming in second as the leading jailer of journalists worldwide. How does your mother's release fit into the larger context, does this in any way signal an opening in greater respect for press freedoms?

AE: It is becoming better in the country if you look at the numbers. It was like 52, and now it's less than 45 I think. It's going down but it's not because the government wants to be democratic. It's because people are pushing a lot. They can't deal with it anymore, this non-justice system. So that's why in the end they are start to release some people. They shut down Twitter, YouTube, so it's just not going good.

Alexandra Waldhorn


Visit to read more about Fusun Erdogan and the other journalists profiled as part of our '30 Days for Freedom' campaign #FreethePress


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2014-05-16 17:20

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...