Esber Yagmurdereli is a Turkish writer, lawyer, and human right activist. Esber is blind, and he has been in jail since June 1998, because he made a speech criticizing the Turkish Governments treatment of the Kurdish minority in the south-east provinces. Esber Yagmurdereli is the European Lawyers Union, Human Rights Laureate for the Year 2000, and was awarded the sixth Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in March. The European Lawyers Union has called for the immediate release of Esber Yagmurdereli.
Born in 1945, Yagmurdereli went blind at the age of ten. He graduated from Ankara University in law and philosophy, and then qualified as a lawyer. During the 1970s, when he practised in Turkeys Black Sea region, he became prominent for his defence of many leading left-wing political figures and political prisoners. He simultaneously edited several magazines, including Yeni Eylem, a political journal founded in 1968, and he made a name for himself as a poet and short-story writer. One of his short stories won him a famous literary prize.
These activities were cut short, however, by his arrest in March 1978 when he was charged with - supporting illegal political movements - and also a confusing array of charges. He was variously accused of hiding stolen goods, leading an armed robbery, and membership of an illegal organisation. The insubstantial criminal evidence against him ended up in two allegations: first, that weapons had been found in the house of one of his clients, and second, that a search of one of his neighbours houses elicited some jewellery that the police said had been stolen. On 5 March 1978 - twenty-one years ago - the blind writer, lawyer and human rights activist Esber Yagmurdereli walked into prison for the first time, aged 33.
It took a court seven years to announce a verdict of guilty, in a trial that Amnesty International said fell far short of international standards. While he was serving his jail term, the military government in power, following the 1980 overthrow, decided, in 1982, to change his sentence and in March 1985, Esber Yagmurdereli was sentenced to death, for - trying to change the constitutional order by force - commutted to life on account of his blindness.
His friends and colleagues were in no doubt that the case against him had been framed as a way to silence him and halt his legal and literary activities. Esber Yagmurdereli was offered a pardon, but he refused to accept on the grounds that he was not guilty, seeking a fair retrial instead.
When the remainder of his term was suspended in 1991, under a general amnesty for political prisoners Esber Yagmurdereli was granted release on condition that he never be convicted again. However, no sooner was he free, than he gave a rousing speech at a meeting in Istanbul organised by the Turkish Human Rights Association, trouncing the authorities.He declared that the Kurdish were rejecting the oppression of thousands of years and the inhuman conditions in which they have been forced to live,and they fought to find freedom. His words were construed on the grounds of Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorist Law, as dissemination of - separatist propaganda- and after a protracted legal process, a ten-month sentence against him was confirmed.
Esber Yagmurdereli made several appeals during his ten-month jail term, all of which had been refused. Consequently, he was facing what was left of the sentence of life imprisonment handed down by the Military Court in 1982, as well as the ten months sentence pronounced by the Security Court under Article 8, of the Anti Terror Law. The court judgement stated that- part of the country was named as Kurdistan and the inhuman activities of the PKK were called the struggle of the Kurdish people for independence ... the Turkish Republic was slandered by praising these illegal activities. In August 1997, the Samsun Criminal Court ruled that Esber Yagmurdereli had broken the conditions of his release from his original life sentence, and ordered him to serve a further 17 years and 3 months in prison. On October 19th, 1997, Esber Yagmurdereli after having spent 14 years in prison on political charges, was taken into custody as he finished taping an interview at the studios of the KANAL D television station.
Esber Yagmurdereli was finally released on Monday, November 10th, 1997, after being pardoned by President Demirel, officially - on health reasons - but in truth on the eve of the European Unions Luxembourg summit, and against his will as well. Just in time for the government to convince the leaders at the Luxembourg Summit that Turkey was truly democratizing, but, seeing that his release had not served its purpose and managed to sway the European Unions decision, it relented of the former parole. Indeed, the decision that had been taken regarding his case only postponed, for one year, the two sentences pronounced against him.
His arrest was re-ordered in January 1998 and, despite international protests on his behalf, Esber Yagmurdereli was jailed on Monday, June 1st, 1998, in Ankara, while visiting his lawyer. This arrest results from his refusal to provide a medical certificate to support the presidential claim that he was pardoned because of his health problems.
Yagmurdereli is now in Cankiri Prison, about 130 kilometres from the Turkish capital of Ankara. It is believed that, taking into account Turkeys complicated laws regarding remission of sentences, he is due for release in about 2015. Yagmurdereli, meanwhile, seems resigned to the fact that for some time to come he is destined to stay in jail. As he once observed :- There is nothing further I can do. I am ready to go to jail and wait for a political decision, for political change, for constitutional change, that will allow me to be freed.
His son, Ugur, now just twenty-one, is his outspoken advocate. He recently staged a campaigning Bicycle Ride to draw attention to his fathers continuing imprisonment.
Esber Yagmurdereli imprisonment is in violation of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Turkey is a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In failing to guarantee Esber Yagmurdereli his fundamental right of freedom of expression Turkey is in breach of Article 10. The failure to guarantee a fair trial has contravened Article 6.
Amnesty International has adopted Esber Yagmurdereli as a Prisoner of Conscience and demanded that his sentence be quashed and all prisoners of concience in Turkey be released. He is an Honorary Member of the Canadian, Czech, San Miguel, Slovak and Swedish PEN (Writers in Prison) Centres . As a playwright, his play about censorship in Turkey is currently being performed in Istambul and Ankara theaters.
Being the most famous prisoner of conscience in Turkey, the release of Esber Yagmurdereli, as well as other prisoners of conscience, would symbolise the true willingness of Turkish authorities to move towards a greater democracy and the Europan Union.
The candidacy of Esber Yagmurdereli is presented by PEN International - Writers in prison.
You can write to Esber Yagmurdereli, sending congratulations for his election for the 6th Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize. Although Esber is blind, fellow inmates of his will be able to read him your messages of support. His address is: Cankiri Cezaevi, Cankiri, Turkey. Faxes can be sent through to the prison on +90 376 213 24 35.
19/1/2001 Esber Yagmurdereli has been released under an amnesty law passed by the Turkish Parliament that provides for the release of political prisoners. Esber had spent 16 years in prison.
by European Lawyers Union