Swiss “Freethinker Prize” goes to Kurdish journalist Zehra Doğan

The Swiss Freethinker Association ‘Frei Denken’ bestowed this year’s "Freethinker Prize" to jailed Kurdish journalist Zehra Doğan and Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad.

The Swiss Freethinker Association ‘Frei Denken’ bestowed this year’s "Freethinker Prize" to jailed Kurdish journalist-painter Zehra Doğan and Iranian journalist and writer Masih Alinejad who launched Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom” that invites Iranian women to post pictures of themselves without a hijab.

The award ceremony at Zurich Volksausstiftung was attended by many journalists and friends of Zehra Doğan.

Neither Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad from the Persian service of VOA (Voice of America), who lives in exile in the U.S., nor Kurdish journalist Zehra Doğan, who is jailed in Diyarbakır E Type Prison, Turkey since June, could attend the ceremony and their awards were thus given to their friends in their place.

Some twenty reproductions of Zehra’s works were exhibited, along with the video shown for the first time on this occasion, produced by graphic artist Sébastien Lecoultre as a tribute to Zehra.

Speeches at the awards ceremony told about what the two female journalists have been through as victims of totalitarian regimes in their countries. The "Freethinker Prize" for Zehra Doğan was received by her colleagues Naz Öke and Lucie Renée Bourges from Kedistan, a webzine organizing and upholding the European solidarity campaign.

Excerpts of Zehra’s letters were read in Turkish and in English at the ceremony. The hundreds of guests, free thinkers including scholars, scientists and journalists saluted Zehra’s testimony with enthusiasm and warm applause.

Here is the text that was read by Kedistan magazine’s journalists, acting as Zehra’s emissaries at the award ceremony:

“Due to visiting rules and internal communications in the high security prison in Diyarbakir prison where she is held since June, we were able to transmit this good news to Zehra last Friday only. She could not write a text to thank you but we can tell you she was very pleased to receive this prize. But since we do not want to talk in her stead, we shall read you a small compilation of excerpts from her recent letters.

“Since the prison administration wouldn’t give me my material, I had to find alternatives. And I realized that I had everything on hand. I use wrappers, garbage and food. I produce the colors from natural sources. For example, olives provide me with black, tomato paste gives me red… I crush parsley for green… turmeric provides yellow. There is tea, coffee… and honey for glue. For paper, we are allowed notebooks and writing paper. So I use newspapers, but also all kinds of wrappings. The cardboard from boxes of cookies, the aluminum foil on containers… For special effects, I also use the foil from packs of cigarettes.

I focus on the Middle East. I would like to further my knowledge of history, culture and regional mythology. I set aside 4 hours every day with one of my co-detainees to write a novel based on her life story. I draw and I paint whenever I can. And I’ve also started giving drawing classes to my friends here. In a way, I socialize art in my fashion. They love to draw. Soon, I’ll be able to teach them how to make a paintbrush out of bird feathers found in the yard.

I wouldn’t like you to imagine a sad-sack withdrawn Zehra, wasting her time. I write to tell you everything I do here, so that when you hear and pronounce the name Zehra, you picture a woman with a strong morale and hope, someone who is strong and upright.

Every morning we assemble for a reading session. With the reading of some 300 pages every day, discussions and in-depth study, I think we somehow declare the victory of ‘will’. I think a vital truth exists in jail and that I must express it by my behavior and my modes of thought.

I used to fear that in the absolute darkness of the walls built around me, with no knowledge of my roots, I would settle into the situation, reconcile myself with the persecution to which I am subjected, that I would lock myself into the jail of my inner world.

If truth be told, it is easier to get rid of the jail in its concrete aspect than to extract one’s self from the jail of one’s own ego. For it is much easier to build up in your head the disgusting perception of this jail which then appears before your eyes with great clarity, in all its nakedness. You must carry out this internal battle 24 hours a day. And this struggle frees your thoughts. We are in a constant existential battle and we learn to stand tall, head straight, facing this will to annihilate us.

In this space where everything is constantly restricted, where even a pencil is hard to find, I will learn how to create existence out of a void.

For someone with no reason to live, yes, jail is hard, even very hard. But my reason for living is powerful. This is why these walls become more immaterial for me with every passing day.

No space in the world is totally free. Can you tell me that the space you are in right now is really free? I understand that in your struggles also there is no question of absolute freedom.

And I think that in the search for freedom, women must stand in the front ranks. We must fight with even greater strength against masculine domination that decides how we must live, how we must talk, dress, wear makeup, what size and weight we must be, how we must behave sexually, and even how we must die. But I’m convinced we will shatter those dark glasses they have forced onto us.

“I send you all my love from a little prison filled with big-hearted women, in a town burnt and destroyed, far away from you.

As a woman, dominated by patriarchy and oppressed by a regime that instrumentalizes Islam in politics, just as the former regime called itself secular while imposing it as a State religion, freedom of thought is dear to Zehra. And when the judge had the court condemn her, claiming that her drawing of the destroyed town of Nusaybin went beyond “allowable limits for criticism”, I leave you to judge what freedom is left in Turkey.

I thank you on her behalf.”