May 04 2018

Turkish teacher Ayşe released after prison sentence for ‘praising terrorism’

Ayşe Çelik, a Turkish teacher who received a prison sentence on terror propaganda charges after phoning in to a popular television show to protest against children dying in the conflict in the southeast of Turkey, has been released two weeks after her sentence began, Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet reported on Friday.

Çelik’s legal ordeal began in January 2016 after calling in during a live broadcast of a popular Saturday night chat show hosted by Beyazıt Öztürk, to protest against civilian deaths in Turkish armed forces’ anti-insurgency operations in the country’s predominantly Kurdish regions.

Heavy fighting began in these regions in 2015 after the breakdown of the peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been in intermittent conflict with Turkish armed forces since launching a separatist insurgency in the mid-1980s.

“Are you aware of what is going on in the country’s east and southeast? Unborn babies and mothers are being killed,” said Çelik during her phone call to the show.

“As artists, as human beings, you shouldn’t stay silent but draw the line in some way. There are despicable people who get happy when children die. I cannot say anything more than, ‘shame on them!” she said.

“I am a teacher, and I would like to call on those teachers who left their students behind. How are they going to return here one day, and look at those innocent good-hearted children in the eye? I am speechless, really.

What is happening here is misrepresented on television. I cannot really say more, please don’t stay silent. Please show more sensitivity as human beings. See us, hear us and give us a hand. What a pity! Don’t let people die. Don’t let children die. Don’t let mothers cry.

This is all I can say. I want to say more, but my emotions are mounting, my voice is shaking. Sounds of bombs, gunfire... People grapple with hunger and thirst here, especially babies and children. Please do more, and don’t stay silent, please.”

Legal action was set in motion against Çelik shortly after the phone call was broadcast, resulting in a guilty verdict and 15-month prison sentence passed in December 2017.

The charges against the young teacher sparked indignation among many in Turkey who saw her words as legitimate political expression; as the criminal proceedings against her took place, 38 intellectuals reported themselves to Turkish prosecutors saying they had used the same words as  Çelik.

The fact that Çelik had recently given birth, and went on to begin her prison sentence on Apr. 20 alongside her six-month-old baby, added to the outrage.

There was relief from many on Friday at the news of her release on probation after serving around two weeks in prison. Çelik’s lawyer Mahsuni Karaman had unsuccesfully applied twice for a stay of execution on the sentence, but was granted the latest motion for his client to serve the sentence on probation.