Denmark Fails Füsun Erdogan

The Turkish President was welcomed by the Danish government with official ceremony and celebration which was seen as the biggest reception of the year in Denmark. Meanwhile, 49 of the fellow citizens of President Abdullah Gül are currently in prison for doing their jobs as journalists.

In this feature article, Esben Ørberg, the communications adviser of the Danish Union of Journalists, as well as representative of the European Federation of Journalists to Turkey, has explained why Denmark has failed to achieve justice for imprisoned journalists Füsun Erdogan so far.

In the women's prison of Gebze near Istanbul, 52-year-old journalist Füsun Erdogan is watching years of her life drifting away. In the past 2,700 days, she has been waking up seeing the four prison walls surrounding her and a fair trial that she has never received. Now, that hope has faded away. On 2 November 2013, Füsun was given a life sentence and 3,000 years with the charge of being a member of an alleged terrorist organisation (MLKP).

Nothing could be further from the truth. Füsun Erdogan is a journalist and, indeed, a declared socialist, but she is not even an ordinary member of any of the organisations proscribed by the anti-terror legislation. She is the founder of the radio station Özgür Radyo (Radio Free), which has often defended political, religious and ethnic minorities. In 2007 she was kidnapped on the street by police troops. Since then she has been in prison with limited contact with her husband, son, siblings and a growing numbers of supporters. At the beginning of her imprisonment, she has suffered substantial physical injuries.

As an observer for the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), I have followed her case closely over the past years, including attending a series of court hearings in Istanbul. We had only made eye contact once during the court hearing. I have met several times with her ​​sisters and her colleagues from the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) and the Turkish media. None of these people as well as the international human rights and media organisations is in any doubt that she is innocent and her punishment was due to her critical voice against the authorities in Turkey.

Last week, it was speculated that Füsun will be released as a result of the change in the law. But her appeal was denied on Tuesday 18 March. The announcement came at exactly the same time when the Turkish President was welcomed by the Danish government with the most lavish reception that we have never seen in recent history at Hotel d'Angleterre in Copenhagen. It was said that the reception would be both brief and modest, as the President and his entourage wished to eat dinner at restaurant Noma, but to the relief of many, the Noma visit did not take place until the following day. Consequently, Denmark’s top ranking men and women could allow themselves to be pampered by the 60-man team specially flown in from an Austrian catering company to prepare and serve Turkish delicacies. Our government has also commissioned the Turkish musicians for the occasion and played and sang the Danish song ‘The Old Gardener’.

How inappropriate to have such a lavish feast for the Turkish President when his citizens at home are being put in prison because they try to tell the truth?

I would ask the Danish government to do a little more than pleasing President Gül.  

Although our Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt has told the President Gül that his country needs to improve standards for freedom of expression, this is only an empty statement. Our government justify its lavish reception for the President of Turkey where has the world record for the number of imprisoned journalists.

Earlier in March, the Danish Union of Journalists had met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Lidegaard. We were pleased that he has accepted and listened to our advice to press EU to act on violations of press freedom in Turkey. We have also presented him letter written by Füsun Erdogan, who has asked him to inform European colleagues about her case.

Unfortunately, due to the Crimean situation, the Minister was in Brussels when President Gül was in Denmark. As a result, the President hardly experienced anything other than a warm welcome and an enjoyable visit hosted by Queen Margarethe, and the President's subsequent thank-you in the form of a memorable reception, which perhaps may even allay the critical voices for a while. Or is this an unreasonable conspiracy theory because you cannot bribe the officials and politicians of Denmark?

However, there are some questions to be answered: Can the government really bring itself to support the preparations for Turkey’s negotiations for accession to the EU without drawing attention to Füsun  Erdogan and 48 other journalists who are currently rotting in prison for crimes they have never committed?

Can the government really allow politeness and diplomacy to rule so completely that Turkey fails to notice that in Denmark, we view freedom of expression to be the basis and prerequisite of all democratic development?

I hope that more has occurred behind the scenes than we heard when the Prime Minister spoke of “the good relations between our two countries”.

And I hope that when he visits Turkey later this year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will remember the visit by the Danish Union of Journalists and the tragic story of Füsun Erdogan.


You can also view the original version of this feature article in Danish published on largest newspaper, Politiken, in Denmark on 22 March.

Politiken