Academic Altınel: I Taught English, French to Friends in Prison

Yazar / Referans: 
Evrim Kepenek, Bianet

Assoc. Prof. Altınel, an academic for peace, served 81 days in prison for "terrorist propaganda" because of interpreting speeches in an event. "I learned valuable knowledge from my friends in prison," he says.

Today is Saturday. Istiklal Avenue is congested. Some came for shopping, some for hanging around. We are on Çukurleşme street, one of the busiest in the area, also where the Human Rights Association (İHD) is on.

The people on this street neither came to shop nor to hang around. They are with the Saturday Mothers/People who gather for the 749th time.

There is a person in the group. Some offer good wishes, some hug him when they see him. When I look more carefully, I understand that he is Assoc. Prof. Tuna Altınel, who has been released from prison recently.

Just like other academics for peace I saw, he is chatting with people humbly and cutely. I don't want to disturb but I want to hear hear what he experienced in prison.

Our conversation begins when he sincerely accepts my request for a 10-minute interview.

Did you expect to be arrested?

I didn't predict such an arrest before coming to Turkey. But I live thinking that kind of an incident could happen anytime.

In my previous visit, I gave a statement of defense in the trials of the Academics for Peace. After that, I was thinking a bit more, "Would cush a thing happen?" but I did not have specific information. I understood when I landed on the Sabiha Göçken Airport.

"I got the same response all the time: They will tell you"

What happened at the airport?

The officer had a long look on my passport. Then grabbed his phone and called inside. This was when I realized there was something. I said, "Is there is problem?" His answer was like the sum of the next one month. "They will tell you," he said.

I am brought to some place all the time and always receive the same response to my questions: "You will be told."

Then some people came from the inside. They said something like, "Your passport has become invalid." A plain clothes police officer came and took me to somewhere like a waiting room. He asked me questions that didn't have much meaning.

What did you think at that moment?

At one moment, the plain clothes officer said, "Professor, there are many things about you. You attended many events."

I said, "Yes, I gave lectures." He probably knew what the matter is but he did not tell me.

At first, I didn't tell anyone, I tried to understand. I only reached Meriç Eyüboğlu, our attorney. I informed her. Then I told my girlfriend at the weekend. I didn't even tell my close family.

I went to Çağlayan [courthouse] and watched the trials. I tried to understand if it is related to the case of the Academics for Peace. But the attorneys understood that as my passport was called "invali" in Balıkesir.

At first, I didn't tell anyone to not make people alarmed. But I could not learn what happened either. I understood that there was a problem but could not understand what it is.

I increased information exchange with France. The attorney in Balıkesir said, "You don't have to come here."

I went to a department related to passports in İstanbul. The police officer there probably saw what happened on the screen.

On May 9, Thursday, the officer in İstanbul said, "Go to Balıkesir."

I asked the officer in the Governorship of Balıkesir about the situation. The officer said, "You came for nothing. We will write to relevant places to learn." I think he also knew what happened. Because he did not asked me to provide a citizenship number.

Then, I bought a bus ticket. I had time, I toured around the city. Meanwhile, my phone rang. An unknown number was calling. An officer was saying, "You didn't give your identity document. Did you depart?"

I replied, "I didn't, I will bring it."

I took the road to the governorship. At somewhere close to the governorship building, somebody shouted, "Mr. Ahmet." He didn't talk about an arrest. Meanwhile, other police officers came.

"It was a positive experience"

How did they treat you there? Did you experience a violation of rights?

They generally treated kindly. There is an intense discreetness. And then there were routine arrest proceedings and they told me what I was charged of. I stayed in custody for one night in Balıkesir. Then I was arrested.

How was your prison period?

What I experienced was a positive experience for me. Human relationships were very good. I was lucky. In a type-L prison, there is a common living space. A system that was formed of rooms... All in all, it is not a ward. My friends were very good, knowledgeable people.

Two of them were aged 30 and below. They were respectful. I learned many nice things from them. We were getting on together. We had an order.

How did a day pass there?

I would get up in the morning and do a little exercise. If I was on-duty, I would clean the toilets. There was silence between 12 at night and 12 at noon. I would study in the morning. I would study the cases of the Academics for peace.

In the afternoons, I would teach English and French to my friends. My students were determined. I would prepare for them. Especially for French, I would make serious preparation. They would also teach me Kurdish.

SEGBİS is an obstacle for the right to defend oneself

Was it hard to say goodbye?

Yes, yes. I understand the problems they experience much better. From now on, this will be one of the things I will try to do. Maybe this can be seen as the problems of just my friends. But it is not. It is generally experienced in all prisons. There two people arrested and their trials continue. Very heavy cases. One of the cases is in Batman, the other is in Cizre. One of them is facing aggravated life sentence. It his a horrible thing. There is no such thing as a defense.

Would you tell a bit more?

An attorney can't come. We can see the problems that cause in such a sensitive case. This is a serious problem. People are dispatched to far away places under the guise of the SEGBİS (Audio and Video Informatics System) and they are being prevented from using their right to defend themselves. I saw the damage it causes in everyday life.

The state making a dispatch so easily causes serious problems. Arrestees say they forget the faces of their families. For example, there is a prisoner from Siirt. Their family can't come. They can't see their families because they distributed them to various places in Turkey.

This is a terrible thing. Families can't come. But I think what can sensitive people like us can do in terms of providing attorneys from regions. I am sure that there are some sources in Balıkesir. They knew such problems are experienced but nothing is done. These are brought into the agenda but there is no result.

Some cases have come to the stage of verdict, bad things could happen. This is a humanitarian issue. Rights defenders could mobilize for this matter.

How were you affected from this period?

I have become more sensitive to these matters. I learned that I have to make more efforts on the issue of prisons. What I lived in the last two months, the people in prisons were a school for me. My path is the same.

What would you like to add for the last part?

I didn't have a difficult arrest. I just want to say this: There are people in prisons. We shouldn't forget them.


*Altınel at an event called, "Don't forget Suruç Massacre for Justice," at the Abbasağa Park in Beşiktaş, İstanbul on August 4. (Photo: Zeynep Kuray)