Nurcan Baysal is a journalist and an award-winning human rights activist based in Diyarbakir, Turkey. She has been arrested and detained repeatedly for her writing about Turkish Kurdistan and for tweets she has posted concerning military assaults on the Kurdish community. Most recently she has come under scrutiny for her comments on the Turkish government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. Historical tweets have been revived for scrutiny, the effect being that she has to travel to police stations and face questioning in spite of the current global need to avoid infection. In the winter of 2019, while she was writer-in-residence with English PEN, her home in Diyarbakir was raided in a clear attempt to intimidate her by means of terrorising her children. There is a good summary of her current situation on the English PEN website.
In a recent article published on Ahval, Nurcan writes:
“…While the threat of the coronavirus is still among us, being in public places such as a police station, hospital or courthouse carries risks. Over the past four years, I have been sentenced to 10 months in prison, detained three times, my house has been raided by police twice and authorities have launched dozens of investigations against me. Now, I have to think again and again while tweeting or writing an article. How can I continue journalism and human rights advocacy in this situation?”
Her article calls attention to the thousands of writers, journalists and human rights activists who are currently in Turkish and other prisons because of their work. She highlights the dilemma faced by activists like her who feel a sense of responsibility towards the populations they defend together with a contradictory imperative not to put their families at risk. She acknowledges the importance of the support of international organisations such as PEN and Front Line Defenders to writers like her, believing that international attention acts as a brake on official harassment. She is free today, she writes in this article, thanks to the solidarity of international organisations. But, she asks, what about the thousands of other local journalists at risk or in prison, not only in Turkey but all over the world? If international solidarity can save them, does the support she enjoys not need to be multiplied to reach all of them? Established journalists with international reputations can write with authority about situations in areas of conflict and/or repression thanks to the work of local journalists; how can we balance that with a reciprocal level of support?
“You have to find new ways to reach us,” she writes. “We have to establish mechanisms to act fast without waiting for solidarity campaigns launched by local journalists and rights activists. Political pressures and judicial harassment have brought many local journalists to the crossroads. If we do not increase solidarity, many of us will perish. Dictators will prevail, and the truth will be left in the dark.”
Her words are a challenge to all of us who value our right to freedom of expression, to everyone who cares about real journalism. If we are lucky enough to live in an open democracy, how can we be effective in supporting those who literally risk their lives every time they post a tweet or write an article questioning government policy? Even those of us who belong to human rights support groups have to ask ourselves: how can we amplify solidarity? How can we translate our concern into effective action?
There are no easy answers, but that’s not a reason to avoid the question.
Nurcan will take part in an online conversation with Maureen Freely, chair of English PEN at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday 10th June. This event is only open to members of English PEN.
Nurcan’s own website is here
She is currently a columnist for Ahval
You can also read about her in Yes, We Still Drink Coffee! Published by Fighting Words and Front Line Defenders in 2019, this book features both an essay written by Nurcan and an essay about her work.