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Writers in exile
9 min read

Story-7: Nights and Walls

Aslı Ceren Aslan was born in Istanbul in 1990 and graduated from Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Department of Mathematics in 2014. Between 2014 and 2021, Aslan worked in various positions as a reporter, editor and editor-in-chief at Yeni Demokrat Kadın magazine and Özgür Gelecek newspaper in Turkey. Between 2017 and 2019, she was imprisoned in Urfa Closed Prison No.2 due to her journalistic activities. In 2022, she was accepted to the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), an organisation for journalists, writers and artists under political threat. Since July 2022, she has been hosted as an ICORN-guest by the Municipality of Växjö in Sweden. Aslan's first book written in Växjö, Birbirimizin Çaresiyiz (We are each other's remedy) was published in Turkey by SRC Publishing House and Bara vi själva kan rädda varandra was published in Swedish by Trolltrumma Publishing House in November 2023. Below is an excerpt from the book


A meeting between two female prisoners shows the arbitrariness of the Turkish legal system. During a car ride from the prison, to a so-called trial, this is made clear, as well as the importance of solidarity with them who at a first glance seems alien to us.

Credits Aslı Ceren Aslan Translation: Ege Dündar Photo: Lina Alriksson March 07 2024

In the morning hours, the door opens and the guards call my name. I have been waiting for this day for two months since I received the notice that I will appear in court. It will be the first court case since I was captured at the Turkish-Syrian border. It will not make any difference to the result of the trial whether I am tried in detention or not. I have already been sentenced to two years and six months for my journalistic activities while in prison. So even if the court rules for "Release," I will continue to be in prison.

But I'm still excited. This is the first time I've stepped out of prison in ten months. I'm curious to see what I'm going to encounter on the road, in the courthouse and in the courtroom. I probably won't be able to go back to prison until the evening. That's why my friends give me biscuits and water to take along. I wave to them and walk out of the ward. I walk through the prison corridor between two guards. When I arrive at the exit gate, the guards pass on their duty to the soldiers. A commander comes and handcuffs me though not too tightly. He turns out to be merciful. I follow him. Lower-ranking soldiers who see the commander run around to please him while looking at me curiously. On their faces, I can read questions such as why I am in prison and what crime did I commit. They are in the military because of their compulsory service. The commander, on the other hand, is someone who has chosen the military as a profession.

I get into the prison car. It is made up of three separate compartments and each has a camera and a door inside the vehicle. I get to one of them, they lock the door on me. Even though I have room for one more person next to me, this is a narrow place. The window is tiny and up above. If you want to see the outside, you must stand up.

I wait for a while. They are probably waiting for other detainees who have a court case like me to arrive. I'm going to see my lawyer after many long months. My family also insisted on coming to court on the phone call day the previous week. I barely manage persuading them not to come. I tell them that it is pointless for them to travel miles for a trial that will last no more than ten minutes, and I convince them to wait until the prison visit day.

The door to the compartment I am in opens and a woman walks through the door, handcuffed. When the door closes and she sits next to me, we greet each other. Apart from the political ward, there are two other types of wards for women in prison; those who were arrested for criminal judicial incidents and those who were detained as a result of operations against the Fethullah Gülen Movement. I haven't had a dialogue with them before other than passing them by in the prison corridor.

Until the vehicle starts to move, she quickly tells me why she was arrested and the injustices she has suffered. She explains that she was arrested for drug possession, that everything was because of her lover, that he put all the blame on her and that his friends supported it. He's from Urfa, too. She has marks of cuts all over her body. A small, meagre woman.

When I say I was arrested because I am a journalist, she starts cursing the government. "I voted for them too, sister," she says but laments that they have not delivered on their promises. Her sentences lose their structure at times, over and over she says: "They're keeping me here for nothing." She mentions that she has a child, and reproaches, "She is staying with my mother now, how is this fair, sister?" Along the way, she keeps repeating sentences decorated with dreams, reprehensions and anger.

When I have the opportunity to interrupt, I ask about what kind of life they spend in the ward. How do they meet their needs, what was their relationship like with each other, what was the reason for the daily sounds of quarrel?

The wards of those kept under judicial crimes were parallel to ours so that when you came out of the door of our ward, you could see their ventilation window. However, a dark blue filter blocked the view. The sounds of swearing and shouting from their wards could be heard clearly and often from where we were. As the voices grew louder, those of the guards joined them. We could tell from the silenced voices that the fight was suppressed by the guards.

"Well my sister, we form groups with people we find close to us and meet our needs together. So we don't leave anyone hungry. But there are groups, people don't just support anyone. Fights usually take place between these groups. These people were taking drugs outside, Sister and if the infirmary does not bring medicine, a fight will break out in the ward. Everyone sleeps during the day with these pills,"she explains. She is curious about us, too. When I explain it a little, she says, "maybe I should transfer to yours?" before adding, "No, then they certainly won't let me out of here”, giving up on the thought immediately.

We can tell we have arrived at the courthouse by the car coming to a halt. We headed in, accompanied by a lot of soldiers. There are two of us and our companions are about twenty soldiers armed with machine guns. They put us into cells to await the time for the hearing. I wait for hours in a cell by myself. The court will assemble around two o'clock and it's barely ten o'clock in the morning yet. I walk, sit, get up, eat biscuits on the tiny floor, even though I'm not hungry. Finally, they call me.

As I enter the courtroom, my handcuffs are finally opened. My lawyer and I exchange greetings. The judge asks me if I have anything to add to my statements in the court where I was arrested, I defend my journalism, the lawyer reminds of the issues that did not go into record, then the court is adjourned resulting with the continuation my pre-trial detention. The next date is set for four months later.

As I said, this decision doesn't affect my life much because I am already under arrest from another case. But if this wasn't the case, I would have been kept waiting for another four months without good reason and everything had happened in such a hurry that while I was defending my journalism, the prosecutor was on his phone and the judge was looking at me with a wry smile. I said goodbye to my lawyer and left the courtroom. I was handcuffed by the soldiers. Then the cell, then the prison vehicle.

I was greeted by a voice saying "Sister, they didn't let me go either," We were next to each other again. I was tired and frustrated by the attitude of the judges. "That crook came again. You know, my ex. He put all the blame on me. He didn't change his statement," she continues.

I listen along the way. We arrive at the prison. She hugs me when we get to the hallway where her own ward is. This is normally forbidden, but the guards must be tired so they don't make a scene. We say our goodbyes, and I move towards the corridor where my ward is.

Everyone who hears the ward door open comes running to me. I tell them what happened while some of them set up the table for me to eat, about the woman from the judicial ward, the road and everything that is different from in here.

When I'm alone, I think about the criminal ward. How far away we feel from their world. It seems to me that the reality of what we sloganize as "Long live women's solidarity" will only be possible when we expand it’s inclusivity. In my ward, despite going through different cultural experiences and ways of interpreting the world, we still managed to create a world where everyone added their own color. We wanted this little world to spill out all over the earth. An equal, free and fair world where we are enriched by our differences.

Yet even in the ward parallel to us this wasn't possible. Most of us were prejudiced against them. Who knows what they had done to end up here! When a fight broke out in the next ward, most of us had a wry smile on our faces: "It's a fight again, they'll turn on music and dance in a minute!"

Those of us who were worried, even if we did not agree with this sarcasm, closed our ears to the sounds of fighting for a while. As if it didn't exist. Cutting corners. But weren't we in here because we didn't close our eyes, ears, and mouths out there?

What could we do? In these circumstances, nothing surely. It was not possible for us to develop communication with them in a place where contact between wards was near none. However, we had to sit down and think about our sarcastic smiles and ignorance. The walls were not just built by the prison, we enclosed ourselves with the walls we had built.

We had to tear down these walls. We need to tear down these walls.

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