Jailed Turkish author Ahmet Altan: My difference can't be imprisoned

6 min read

“You can incarcerate me yet we can't keep me here,” writes Ahmet Altan during a finish of his acclaimed book I Will Never See a World Again. “Because, like all writers, we have magic. we can pass by your walls with ease.”

The novelist’s array of essays, smuggled out of jail among records to his lawyers, was lauded by critics as an present classical when it was published in Britain in open this year, and final week it was longlisted for a £50,000 Baillie Gifford nonfiction prize.

Now Altan, who has been in jail for 3 years on charges outset from a unsuccessful Turkish manoeuvre try of Jul 2016, has voiced his rebuttal by a created word once again, essay another book from his common dungeon in a high-security Silivri prison.

“I have created a new novel,” he told a Observer around messages sent in and out of his jail cell. Like I Will Never See a World Again, a new title, Lady Life, is approaching to be published in English first. A comedy set in today’s Istanbul opposite a credentials of hang-up and domestic turmoil, a protagonist is a lady called Hayat, a word that means “life” in Turkish.

“It tells a story of someone who doesn’t take life too seriously,” pronounced Altan. “She incited out to be a impression who amuses me greatly.”

According to Altan’s crony Yasemin Çongar, who will interpret a book into English, a novel is unequivocally funny. But always in a credentials is a damaged multitude with an bum economy, full of a “new poor”, bankrupt by a widespread and clearly unenlightened inform of supposed dissidents. “They are people whose lives have been interrupted, roughly destroyed,” pronounced Congar.

In a issue of a try to reject a Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, some-more than 100,000 people – polite servants, teachers, judges, military officers, soldiers, reporters and academics – mislaid their jobs, many of them suspected of links to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic academician banished in a US who is indicted by a authorities of masterminding a manoeuvre attempt. More than 300,000 books related – and separate – to Gülen were destroyed; and the economy has slumped.

Altan, 69, a combative, provocative and outspoken competition of a Erdoğan regime, was jailed in Sep 2016 tentative trial, alongside his hermit Mehmet, 66, a writer, publisher and academic, and a former MP and publisher Nazli Ilicak, 75, for allegedly promulgation “subliminal messages” on radio in support of a coup. In Feb 2018, with Ilicak, Altan was condemned to life seizure yet recover for attempting to overpower a government. Mehmet was liberated yet mislaid his pursuit as an economics professor.

The visualisation was greeted with snub by writers worldwide, yet an interest to Erdoğan for Ahmet Altan’s recover by 38 Nobel laureates – including VS Naipaul, JM Coetzee and Kazuo Ishiguro – fell on deaf ears.

In Jul a justice of cassation, Turkey’s tip appeals court, quashed a philosophy of Altan and Ilicak yet ruled that they should stay in jail and face a assign of “deliberately and honestly helping” a Gülen movement, that a regime deems to be a militant organisation. Altan and Ilicak repudiate a charges. The hearing will start on 8 October.

Philippe Sands, a British/French tellurian rights counsel and author who has taken a box to a European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on a drift that he is being hold unlawfully, told a Observer he was “horrified, frankly, during a disaster of Britain” to press for his release.

“We need a supervision to be bellyaching aloud about this. Boris Johnson contingency publicly call on Erdoğan to giveaway Ahmet,” pronounced Sands, who wrote a prologue to I Will Never See a World Again. “All they ever contend is that they are operative behind a scenes, yet a usually thing they caring about is trade. It’s an outrage.”

Sands, who is boss of English PEN, that defends and promotes writers, awaits visualisation from Strasbourg yet has already successfully argued a box that Mehmet was detained illegally.

“Ahmet is such a conspicuous individual, a male of genuine substance, a male of strength. And after all he has been by he stays unbowed and unbroken,” pronounced Sands.

In a meantime Altan stays in a dungeon he shares with dual other inmates in Silivri, a two-hour expostulate west of Istanbul on a Sea of Marmara. He writes while sitting on a cosmetic chair during a tiny cosmetic table, on paper bought from a jail commissary. His father Çetin Altan, a distinguished leftwing journalist, author and MP, also published a novel (A Handful of Sky, 1974) while portion time as a domestic prisoner.

Ahmet’s wife, Gulnur, friends such as Çongar and supporters wish he will be expelled after a Oct trial. “He has been in jail too prolonged already,” pronounced Çongar. But Altan is not holding his breath. “Because a justice of cassation overturned a verdict, there is now a possibility that we will see a universe again,” he told a Observer.

“But when? Nobody knows. The court’s seeking for my sentencing one approach or another shows that they wish to keep me behind bars as prolonged as possible. It is expected that we will be convicted again yet we don’t know what a visualisation will be. Since there is no [rule of] law, it’s unfit to make a prediction.”

He is not utterly cut off from a world, however, with visits from his family permitted. “I can see my wife, my kids and siblings once a week for an hour with a potion window between us,” he said. “We have to speak on a phone yet we can see any other. Aside from my family, 3 of my friends whose names we gave to a jail administration can revisit me. In a past we was authorised to see my lawyers for usually an hour a week yet this reduction has been lifted.”

And after a dour initial few months yet books, he is authorised 10 in his cell. “I can steal from a jail library, and my lawyers can move books from a outside,” he said. Altan stays stoical and defiant, flourishing his apprehension by vital mostly in his imagination. “Each morning we arise adult somewhere else,” he said. “Still I’m means to daydream. This unequivocally helps me.”

If and when he is released, he faces further, equally Kafkaesque, authorised battles. There is an superb box opposite him dating from his editorship from 2007 to 2012 of a magnanimous daily journal Taraf, sealed down in a state of puncture after a unsuccessful coup.

With Çongar, his former partner editor, he is indicted of obtaining, and afterwards destroying, a supervision request about an purported tip devise to announce fight on Greece. “We never even saw a document,” Çongar told a Observer. But a assign potentially carries a jail visualisation of some-more than 50 years.

Congar, 52, who translated we Will Never See a World Again, is now ubiquitous executive of P24, a not-for-profit height for eccentric broadcasting in Istanbul, that she co-founded.

There are 140 reporters in jail in Turkey, according to P24, many of whom were charged in a crackdown after a unsuccessful coup. Ranked 157 out of 180 countries in a 2018 universe press leisure index published by Reporters Without Borders, Turkey jails some-more reporters than any other country.

Philippe Sands is dedicating a opening of a theatre chronicle of his award-winning book East West Street in London subsequent month to Ahmet Altan and all other writers jailed in Turkey. The event, part of a London novel festival, is during Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, on 21 October.

The longlist for a Baillie Gifford esteem 2019 includes On Chapel Sands by a Observer’s art censor Laura Cumming, and The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth by William Feaver, a Observer’s former arch art critic. Amelia Gentleman is nominated for a Guardian’s story of a Windrush scandal, Windrush Betrayal: Exposing a Hostile Environment.

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