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BOOK REVIEW: We Are Arrested – A Journalist’s Notes from a Turkish Prison by Can Dündar

BOOK REVIEW: We Are Arrested – A Journalist’s Notes from a Turkish Prison by Can Dündar

Biteback
December 2016
Hardcover, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction/Politics & Government/Human Rights/Freedom of Information & Freedom of Speech

7/10

When Turkish journalist, Can Dündar was imprisoned in November 2015 he could have remained silent. But instead he used the three months of his detainment to document everything and put together his thoughts on his role as a reporter. The result, We Are Arrested – A Journalist’s Notes from a Turkish Prison, is an important look at justice, truth, and freedom of speech.

This book was planned during long sessions of exercise, staring at the panorama of yellow walls, on the iron bed of the upper bunk in the cell and right next to the radiator on the lower.
I wasn’t swayed by the idea of publishing it as a diary; instead, I gathered my memories in chronological order under pithy headings…
It took me two months, three ballpoint pens and three ruled notebooks to write We Are Arrested; at times feeling sad, but mostly with a smile, and always sitting down at the table with a great deal of enthusiasm, dreaming of the day of publication…

 

On the 19th of January 2014, a video captured a covert arms shipment that was carried out by the Turkish Secret Service (MİT). This delivery held medical supplies bound for Syria, but underneath the boxes in the truck there were also weapons being transported. The Turkish government claimed that the latter were for Syrian Turkmen, i.e. Syrian citizens of Turkic origin who mostly adhere to a Turkish heritage and identity. This was a crime, as Dündar explains.

In our case, MİT was undertaking a mission it was not legally empowered to do and, by supplying weapons for a neighbouring country’s civil war, was committing a crime. A crime that might have been in the government’s interest to conceal, and a journalist’s duty to expose. This is what distinguished a journalist from a civil servant.

In 2015 Dündar was the editor-in-chief at a daily Ankara newspaper called, Cumhuriyet. The editorial staff had received the 2014 video from an unnamed source. They met and weighed up the pros and cons of publishing the video and they eventually agreed to publish the footage on their website. This resulted in the November 2015 arrest of Dündar and Ankara Bureau chief, Erdem Gül. Dündar made a short statement to the press on the day of his arrest.

We’re not spies, traitors or heroes; we’re simply journalists. We’re here to defend journalism and the public’s right to be informed. This time they’re not facing a newspaper or journalists ready to be cowed. This time they’re facing journalists who are determined to follow this matter up, who will stand upright and defend their words.

Dündar’s account is fascinating as he tries to keep optimistic and upbeat about being held at Silivri Prison while awaiting trial. He would stay there for three months in a cell that smelt of sewage. When a plumber came to fix a pipe Dündar inscribed the word “Freedom” into the wet concrete. He also met other journalists who were imprisoned there. One gave him a recipe for a toasted cheese sandwich (the trick is to place the bread and cheese next to a radiator overnight.) Dündar’s friends on the outside also invented elaborate stories for the prison guard that had to read and sign-off on all of the incoming and outgoing letters. They would even send the guard a personally addressed letter where they probed the guy about his work.

The time in prison was not all fun and games for Dündar. He also described his determination and work as a one-man PR machine. He sent letters to world leaders and filed stories while inside. This work eventually garnered the attention of the international press.

They asked me what I needed and wanted.
I wanted my Twitter account to be kept open. I would continue to send messages, stories and comments from inside.
I had made my mind up: I would transform this dungeon into a microphone, make my voice heard as far as it could reach.

After three months Dündar was released and sought exile in Germany. The threat of additional jail time still exists.

Books like this are important for documenting the human rights abuses that transpired as well as other mistreatments with respect to the press (at times the Turkish government tried to compare Dündar to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange even though Dündar and his colleagues had been given the information they ultimately published).

We Are Arrested is a sharp and urgent story about a brave, Turkish journalist. It’s also a book that is important in the wake of the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016. It is through volumes like these that we are reminded about how crucial it is that the media remains an independent and impartial instrument for the truth, irrespective of the government of the day.

BOOK REVIEW: We Are Arrested - A Journalist’s Notes from a Turkish Prison by Can Dündar

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