The following questionnaire, conducted by P24 Platform for Independent Journalism, is part of a survey aimed at revealing the conditions faced by journalists in prison in Turkey, either in pretrial detention or under a sentence. In addition to documenting the problems journalists might be facing during their time in prison, this survey is also aimed at helping improve their prison environment.
Nazlı Ilıcak answered the questionnaire in a letter she wrote from the Bakırköy Women’s Prison following a prison visit in July 2018 by P24’s lawyers.
Name: Nazlı Ilıcak
Nazlı Ilıcak, a well-known columnist, TV host and former parliamentarian, was arrested in July 2016 as part of an operation targeting journalists alleged to have links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist network (FETÖ/PDY) and staging the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. She was jailed pending trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Ilıcak stood trial alongside six other defendants including Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which convicted six defendants including Ilıcak of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and sentenced each to aggravated life imprisonment. The process of appeal against that verdict is underway. In the meantime, a new indictment against Ilıcak was issued in January 2018, accusing the journalist of “disclosing confidential information crucial to state security for espionage purposes” for a newspaper column. Further information about both cases can be accessed here.
Prison: Bakırköy Women’s Prison
Detained since: 26 July 2016
In pretrial detention or under sentence: In detention pending outcome of appeal
1. Are you detained with other inmates or are you in solitary confinement? How many people do you share the prison ward/cell with?
When I was jailed I was placed in a ward for three-and-a-half months. Later on, under an order from the Justice Ministry, journalists were subjected to isolation. I was then placed in a section called “Müşahede 12” [Observation 12] with three other journalists. Two of them were later released. Then two other inmates were transferred to our section. Hence we are four inmates sharing the same section.
Actually, considering the fact that there are more inmates than the wards were designed to accommodate (in some cases there are more than 30 inmates in a ward designed for 24 people), I cannot complain about this isolation. There are three chambers and one shared room in M-12. I am the only inmate in my chamber. The chamber has its own shower and toilet.
2. How many hours a day are you allowed to go out to the courtyard or prison yard?
We have a courtyard where we can go out whenever we want to. During summer, the courtyard is open from 07:00 a.m. until 08:30 p.m. In autumn and winter the courtyard hours are rather limited. In winter the door to the courtyard is closed by 6:00 p.m. because it gets dark. The courtyard is a shared area. Even though M-12 is considered solitary confinement, the four of us can still sit together, eat together, walk in the courtyard, and watch TV together.
3. Have you had any problems regarding the food served in prison? Does the food meet your health and/or dietary requirements?
Certainly, prison food is not like a home cooked meal, but it’s OK. I can also purchase items from the commissary. I usually eat the salad, canned tuna, and yogurt I buy from the commissary. I also eat the fruits and dried nuts I purchase. Of course, at times I eat the food served by the prison too. I don’t have any special dietary requirements.
4. Have you had any problems in meeting your day-to-day needs such as heating, warm water for shower/bath, laundry, cleaning, etc.?
The first winter I spent here was a very cold one, so I was cold. But I managed by filling plastic bottles with hot water. Actually, the heating system is fine, only, there are too few heater units [in our section].
I did say I was cold, but actually that was nothing one could not get by. The next winter, perhaps out of getting accustomed to being here, I did not feel that cold in room temperatures of 19, 20, 21 degrees Celsius. I think it’s more uncomfortable when it’s hot. Our section has two stories. My room is on the first floor, which is relatively better than the second floor. But still, at times it gets too sweltering. Since the courtyard is entirely made of concrete and encircled by concrete walls, it is usually not possible to go out on the courtyard between 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. during summer.
We do have hot tap water. The bathroom that I use is exclusive to my chamber, so I haven’t had any problems. Also, we do the cleaning ourselves.
5. Do you suffer from any chronic illnesses? Do you have to take regular medication? Do you have access to a medical doctor and/or psychiatrist whenever you need? Have you had any difficulty obtaining your prescribed medicines?
The designated infirmary day for M-12 inmates is Friday. We are required to file a petition during the week if we want to see the doctor on Friday. I requested all kinds of medicines that I could need, just in case, for the prison is overcrowded and this could cause a delay in case there was an urgent need for a certain medication.
When I was first imprisoned, I wasn’t given some of the medications I requested. And this situation, considering my age, prompted in me a fear of losing my health. But in time, things got better. Now I can even file a request for my medications without having to make an appointment with the doctor and they are delivered to me in one or two weeks’ time. But of course I request my medicines in advance, before I run out.
There is a psychologist and a psychiatrist in the prison facility. Inmates are required to first see the psychologist, and if necessary, the psychologist can refer them to the psychiatrist. Prescribed psychiatric drugs are handed out by signature, in a supervised manner.
I regularly use thyroxine hormone for goiter. I also regularly use one medicine for osteoporosis and a vitamin pill to keep my immune system strong. Like I said, there were some difficulties in the beginning, but right now everything is fine.
I don’t know anything about the conditions of other inmates in crowded wards though. But our prison warden gives appointments to inmates who want to speak to the warden about their problems and tries to fix problems through one-on-one communication. Whenever I make an appointment with the prison warden I often see other inmates from other wards waiting to see the warden, which means, other inmates too are able to speak about the problems they face in the prison.
6. Have you had any problems sending/receiving letters?
For a very long time, I was imposed a restriction on written communication. It was only lifted around 5 or 6 months ago. On Thursdays, the letters that we write and those that are sent to us are read by the commission. We are generally delivered a letter that’s sent to us in around 15 days. That is, of course, if it’s sent via the Express Mail service. Otherwise it would take longer. No letter that I sent or received has been censored.
7. Have you faced any limitations concerning books, newspapers or other publications you asked for? How many books are you allowed in your prison ward/cell?
We are allowed to have five books brought to us by our relatives. We did have some problem with getting certain newspapers here, such as Cumhuriyet, Karar, or Yeniçağ, but very briefly. I regularly get 17 newspapers every day.
Additionally, we are allowed to borrow three books at a time from the prison library for 15 days.
8. How often can your lawyers or your immediate family visit you? Are other relatives or friends allowed to visit you?
We are allowed one visit every week from our immediate family: mothers, fathers, siblings, children, in-laws. Since the end of the emergency rule, second degree relatives are now also allowed to visit. So now I am also allowed to see my brother’s wife and my daughter-in-law, as well as my nephews.
Throughout emergency rule, contact visitation was allowed once every two months for 35 minutes, and we could make one 10-minute telephone call once every two weeks. Currently, since the end of the emergency rule, we are allowed contact visitation once every month and weekly telephone calls.
Initially, perhaps longer than a year, there was a restriction on visits by lawyers. I could only see my lawyer once every week, for one hour only; the visit was recorded on camera; and we were only allowed to speak in the presence of a correctional officer. Exchanging documents was very difficult. Any document had to be given to the correctional officer first. It used to be handed to the other side only after it was examined. Our respective trial courts later lifted this restriction. The trial court that oversaw my case, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, was the last one to lift the restriction on lawyers. Therefore I had difficulty while I was preparing my defense statements. But right now I am free to see my lawyer as frequently as I need to.
9. Have you been visited by a member of the parliament? If yes, could you please name those who came to your visit?
Several MPs from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) have visited me. Those who made the most visits are Atilla Sertel and Utku Çakırözer, both of whom are journalists by career. But because of my liberal-conservative past, I was not visited by too many CHP MPs. İlhan Kesici, Fikri Sağlar and Mehmet Bekaroğlu visited me because of our personal friendships. There have been times when some CHP deputies would visit other inmates in this prison, but would not visit me. Which, of course, was unkind. I don’t want to name them.
As for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, he frequently sent messages, and he stood up for all [jailed] journalists as a whole, which has been a democratic stance that I shall never forget.
10. Have you faced any problems preparing your defense statement? Do you have access to a computer, to the library, and to your case file while working on your defense statement?
I prepared my defense in handwriting, therefore I did not request access to the library. The biggest trouble I had was caused by the restriction on seeing my lawyer. We faced too many difficulties in exchanging documents with my lawyer, which caused a lot of delay and wasted time.
11. Have you been subject to ill-treatment or any physical or verbal harassment? If so, have you filed a complaint, and if yes, what happened following your complaint?
I haven’t been subjected to any ill-treatment physically. Most of the correctional officers are kind. But some of them call me by my first name, or use the [informal] second person singular pronoun. Also during transfers to the courtroom for hearings, the gendarmerie put handcuffs around my wrists: You have to travel on a gendarmerie vehicle with bars on its windows with your hands cuffed. Or, for instance, the chief judge on the panel during our trial used to yell at the defendants, including myself, all the time.
I don’t know if all these would count when we speak of ill-treatment for a person who is innocent but who has been incarcerated and subjected to this kind of behavior for the past two years. Or, should we deem these ordinary by nature?
12. Have your demands in your petitions been met? Which of your requests have or have not been met?
Most of my demands in my petitions have been met. But of course, there are certain rules. There is a restriction on the number of garments and shoes we can have. Only one teapot and one kettle is allowed in each ward. Each of us is allowed to purchase just one set of bedclothes from the commissary, and another set is provided by the prison. Also, a limited range of products is available at the commissary. But these are all insignificant things.
13. Please name any other problems/demands/shortcomings not mentioned above.
Like I said, during the first several months, I had some trouble getting my medicines or getting a faucet fixed. But right now I cannot say I have anything to complain about. Of course, I cannot speak for the other inmates [from other sections]. We are not allowed to speak to each other. However, now that the emergency rule is over, I will soon be allowed to get together with other inmates — not exceeding 10 people at a time — and I will also be allowed to take part in social activities in the prison.