Günal Kurşun’s letter from prison in Turkey

Günal Kurşun was detained along with nine others from Turkey’s foremost human rights organisations in July, as they took part in a workshop together. Among them was Amnesty Turkey’s Director İdil Eser. They are facing an investigation on suspicion of aiding a terrorist organisation, a ridiculous and baseless accusation. They have done nothing wrong.

Günal has been separated from his young son Ali Berk since then. In September he was allowed to speak to him by phone for 5 minutes, and told him that he misses him a lot and that he has forgotten his smell. A few days later he was finally able to see his son in an open visit. He gave Ali Berk some chocolate that he had bought and they played. Günal has written 10 children’s stories for Ali Berk during his long and unfair imprisonment.

Günal has also written a letter from prison giving an insight into his life and why he feels it is so important to live by human rights principles:

“I was born on 5 September 1975 in Ankara. My father is a military judge who retired as a colonel in 2004, and my mother is a soprano singer/pianist. I have one brother, Mete.

Due to my father’s duties I started primary school in Manisa, continued it in Izmit [both in Western Turkey], and finished it in Elazığ [eastern Turkey]. I think all these travels made me a bit of an extrovert, as I can make friends with ease and adapt to my surroundings quickly when I go somewhere.

At the age of eleven, I ranked high in the examination for Anatolian High Schools. I had the chance to get a good education in this state-owned school – one of only 29 such schools that existed in Turkey back then. I learned foreign languages to a very high standard there, as all classes were taught in English. I never went to a pro-Gülen* school, never went to a pro-Gülen prep school, I never stayed in Gülenist guest houses.

I enrolled at the Mat-Fen prep school in 1993. I was admitted to the Law Faculty at Ankara University, where I was amongst a class of 1,000 students, all smart and hard-working, but few of them were following the culture and arts scene as I used to.

The university was also the place where I started to experience political ideas. I self-identified as a Kemalist/social democrat in my university years, but I had friendships with leftists, Islamists and the members of the far right nationalist ‘Ülkücü’ movement. I never shut myself off from other people, I was always open. I had long hair, and I was known as a rocker in the school.

I graduated in 1998 and had my lawyer’s internship at the Ankara Bar Association. In 1999, I joined Başkent University Faculty of Law as an assistant in Criminal Law.

I met Amnesty International near the end of my education in Ankara Law School. I learned from Amnesty that human rights should be perceived as a whole set of rights that should be defended for everyone, without regard to their language, religion, sect, belief, colour, class, political views, gender, sexual orientation or identity.

I participated in Amnesty’s team as they established themselves in Turkey. In 2003, we established the Izmir-based Human Rights Agenda Association (IHGD) to focus on more local activities, together with a group of lawyers and human rights activists drawn mostly from Amnesty members. I became the Ankara representative of the association.

In all this work I tried to accommodate criminal law and penal procedures law, which were my academic interests, with human rights law. While following theoretical arguments in the university, I laboured to see the practical side of affairs in human rights associations I worked with, and within the civil society. For most times, an academic point of view indeed had a purely theoretical meaning, and it was possible to compensate for this lack of practical outlook using the empirical richness found in the civil society movements. Hence I attempted to build two career supporting each other to have both theoretical and practical proficiency, one in academia and one in civil society.

I returned to my academic career in 2009, joined Ufuk University as a lecturer. After working there for three years, I applied to Çukuruva University Faculty of Law. I was appointed associate professor in 2011 and moved to Adana. In this faculty I taught Criminal Law, Penal Procedure Law, Criminology, and International Criminal Law. Meanwhile, my civil society work has continued, as I was elected the chairman on HRAA in 2012 until 2016. I am still a member of the board in this association. In 2013, HRAA became a partner of Human Rights Joint Platform (IHOP), which consisted of major mainstream and non-partisan human rights associations operating in Turkey. I became a member of their executive board and still hold this position.

In 2014, I started writing columns on criminal law and human rights in Today’s Zaman, one of two English-language newspapers. I kept writing my column until April 2016, when the newspaper was shut down.

After the 15 July coup attempt, I was suspended from my duties at the university, the reason given relating to some of my speeches as the chairman of IHGD and my newspaper columns. I was later dismissed by decree.

I am a person with a secular outlook on life. I believe in universal human rights and a working rule of law, with all my heart. I am against all coups. I believe that a government which came to power via elections should only leave power the same way. I have never been involved in an event which included violence, nor have I supported it. I have never been in a fight since my childhood and I have never borne arms. I am categorically and unconditionally against violence.

I intend to keep living my life according to these principles, and with respect for the rule of law.

Günal Kurşun

Günal remains in pre-trial detention at the time of writing in October 2017.

* Fethullah Gülen is accused by Turkish authorities of orchestrating the failed coup that took place in Turkey in July 2016. Schools, charities and other organizations thought to be affiliated with Hizmet, the movement led by Gülen, have been forcibly closed down in Turkey. The Hizmet movement was classified by the authorities as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation” (FETÖ) following the coup attempt. Attending or working at a Gülen-affiliated school has been used in criminal prosecutions as evidence of membership of FETÖ.

Gülen denies the accusation that he is responsible for the coup attempt.