Journalist Murat Aksoy was detained on 3 September 2016 as part of the post-coup-attempt FETO investigation on the charge of committing crimes on behalf of an organisation with his news reports and Twitter posts adduced as grounds. Aksoy, along with 29 journalists and reporters also including musician Atilla Taş, appeared before a judge for the first time in March. Istanbul Serious Crime Court No 25, whose presiding judge is Penal Judge of the Peace No 1 İbrahim Lorasdağı, who detained Aksoy and Taş in September, released 21 people including Aksoy and Taş on 31 March following the defences. However, the 21 people were arrested before they had left the prison under a midnight operation by Istanbul Republic Chief Prosecutor İrfan Fidan and this time they were detained on coup attempt charges. Aksoy, one of the first journalists to be charged with attempting a coup while detained in prison, was released for the second time on 24 October. I met up with Aksoy, who gained his freedom after 421 days, at his home. Aksoy spoke to Cumhuriyet about life in the cell where he was housed along with Atilla Taş and Gökçe Fırat and the solitary confinement enforced in the jail.
- How did it feel to be housed alongside Atilla Taş and Gökçe Fırat?
It was 421 days in normal terms. Under state of emergency conditions, it is possible to multiply this period by two or even three. Open visitations taking place every two months, letter bans... We were three people who had never met one another in our lives and did not know one another. We may have been placed in the same cell because the three of us all had a more secular lifestyle. We were three people having different personalities. This was not like being flatmates; you were stuck with it. We had nothing in common apart from our conceptual and life outlook and secularism and secularity. My political orientation was different from Gökçe’s. I had a closeness with Atilla that came from being from the same party, but we still had quite a lot of differences in terms of politics and world view. We sometimes sat and debated certain issues but we did so not to persuade one another but as an exchange of ideas.
I settled in after three months
- How long did it take you get used to one another?
I suppose after the second month. After the second month we passed into a normal arrangement. Due to the state of emergency, it took 24 days for our television and fridge to come, and our first newspaper came after 40 days. They only supplied Hürriyet for the first month. I kept on telling myself, “I’ll probably get out in the first month, I’ll get out in the second month, I’ll get out in the third month.” There was always hope and an uncertainty that bred hope for me. Hence, for the first three months, thinking I was about to get out, I didn’t even settle in. I was in hope that I would be packing my bags at any moment. So, I neither did any decent reading nor decent writing. After three months, I moved into a mode of “This business is going to drag out so get settled in.”
60 minutes on the 60th day
- When did you first see your children in prison?
I was able to see them for just 60 minutes on the 60th day. My wife, son, daughter and two big brothers came. I made a mental record of every minute I spent with them and on going back inside dreamed of them until the next open visit. The photograph ban ceased after a while. They gave ten photographs and I placed them at my bedside. Every night before going to bed and when I woke up in the morning I would take a look, sometimes sorrowfully and sometimes happily, and say, “These days will pass.” These days will pass and in the future they’ll say to my kids, “Your dad was a journalist in this tough period.” My daughter and son will say, “My dad’s writing is for all to see and we’re proud of him.” It was this thought that kept me going over the 421 days.
The cell had not changed at all
- In March, you were rearrested on the day you were released. On your last release, your friends were waiting with baited breath until you got out of jail.
When we were released on 31 March, we packed our bags and I wrote in pencil on the bed headboard, “It was so needless and it’s over.” When we entered the same cell seventeen days later, it was as we had left it. It had not been entered at all. The last brew of tea had gone mouldy. The first job was to rub out that writing. Maybe I should have written, “It’s not over” at the bottom. On our last release, I just wrote, “It’s over.” Had there been a more serious charge than attempting a coup, it occurred to me that the same thing could happen this time, too.
MY SON DIDN’T RECOGNISE ME
- How did your children react when they saw you?
Although I had been released, we didn’t tell my daughter Duru, because she waited for a long time when I was previously released. She was staying at her friend’s when I was most recently released. We first spoke on the phone and she said, “Daddy” and cried. We collected her at half past one in the morning from her friend’s. We hugged in the street. She said, “I missed you so much.” My son Ali Emre was asleep when I arrived. When he woke up in the morning he looked in a puzzled way and couldn’t recognise me. We took him in between us. He hugged his mum and turned and looked at me. He hugged his mum and tried to sleep but got curious and turned round. When we went to have breakfast in the morning he kissed my arms and legs. He started to say, “Dad” after two days. He got the hang of it at once.
- What did you miss on the outside?
I missed my children. I missed listening to the song I wanted just when I wanted. I sent Şehriban a music list. Apart from that, I missed writing articles. I wrote a novel on the inside. On the inside, there is both emotion, and there is incarceration and there is a settling of scores. I have a book about Alevism. There is also one book made up of articles describing prison emotions.
MOSS THE ONLY LIFE-LIKE THING
- Did you say, “Where am I?” on getting up in the morning?
Of course. I couldn’t get used to it. I haven’t been able to get used to anything from the moment I left jail. Everything I saw was alien to me. The roads, trees, lights. I couldn’t get used to home, either. I tried to turn on the telly and couldn’t manage it. When the TV came on, I was astonished. The people came on so clearly and large. There was a tiny screen there, you see. Our life was concrete in prison. I sent Şehriban (his wife) my shoes. I said, “There is no dust or soil underneath.” I mean, we walked on concrete for 421 days. We were inside eight square metre blocks of concrete. They stretched barbed wire over us in the third month. Grup Yorum have a song that goes, “Life is in green; green is in moss; moss springs up in lonely corners.” When I went into prison, I gained a reunderstanding of that chorus, because moss grows in the slightest moisture that can sustain it. There was moss at the toilet entry in the courtyard that Murat Sabuncu can pace in seven steps and takes me ten or eleven. Clover was growing around the peephole. That moss and clover were the only life-like things.
Solidarity kept us going
- Will you follow the detained journalists’ hearings?
For sure. From here on, I will follow the trials of the detained journalists and academics, because it was that solidarity that kept us going. This solidarity both kept my family going and, most importantly, kept me going on the inside. I kept all the pages of Cumhuriyet newspaper and Evrensel newspaper on which Aydın Engin. Ahmet İnsel and Fatih Polat spoke of us. I don’t know if I will be able to carry out my profession. I will be part of the solidarity to the extent that circumstances permit. Civil society people say with reference to my wife, “We have gained an activist.” She stood so firm that she was not just mother and father to me but was indispensable. It will be very hard to repay her.
All because of you, keyboard
- Even if it was tough there, which moment brought you the most happiness?
The times I felt best were Fridays because there were open and closed visits. The cell door opened using three mechanisms. Whenever that door opened and every step on the outside was a hope. Even leaving the cell for ten minutes was to become free, because I was heading towards one I loved. They granted the right to use a computer after 367 days. That was the first time I touched a keyboard there. The keyboard I once loved. I said, “All because of you.”
I wrote messages on T-shirts
- Were one to inquire after the worst moments.
When I was first detained, I kept saying, “I’ll get out on objection by 19 September 2016.” My daughter was to start school on that date. I couldn’t get out. That morning, I woke up at the time she woke up and wrote a letter to my daughter. I couldn’t send that letter. I knew it was forbidden and they didn’t return it. It’s in the prison just now. I had the same experience on 11 September of this year. The worst things were the special days I missed. I was arrested on 30 August 2016. That day was Ali Emre’s circumcision. Two days later was my wife’s birthday and I missed it. It was our wedding anniversary on 28 October and I missed it. I wrote messages on my white T-shirts about all these days before visiting day. I opened up my shirt for them to read it on open visits. Such things were forbidden.
Even saying “How are you?” is forbidden
I saw Şahin Alpay in prison three-four days before the hearing. They were marching him around accompanied by warders in the morning. It is even forbidden to say, “How are you?” There was a poem I read years ago. I think it went like this: “I am so furious at the clouds. White as white they remain despite seeing us and everything.” We suffered so much, too. I have been spared that suffering in part. Just now, there are people who are journalists by profession who are pacing up and down and going through the same suffering. I now drink tea in comfort, but when I was inside I dreamed of how it must feel to be able to drink tea from a decent sized glass. Happiness there, even if it exists, was an incarcerated happiness.