Zehra Dogan is Kurdish feminist artist and journalist who was imprisoned in Turkey on trumped-up charges of terrorism. As part of a project with led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch, Julie was twinned with her in late 2017. Since then, Julie has been following her case, and repeatedly demanding her immediate and unconditional release.

“I am delighted to know that Zehra finally walks free”, Julie said upon learning about her release. “I admire her strength and resilience, and will continue to support her work now that she is out of prison”.

Julie chose to support Zehra because her case relates to many aspects of Julie’s work in Turkey.

ZEHRA DOGAN – CREDIT: VOICE PROJECT
ZEHRA DOGAN – CREDIT: VOICE PROJECT

Julie chose to support Zehra because her case relates to many aspects of Julie’s work in Turkey.

Julie focuses on the support to civil society organisations and human rights defenders. Since the alleged coup against Erdogan’s government, civil society has been the target of attacks by the government. As a fierce human rights and democracy campaigner, Julie has stood by the organisations on the ground. Last year, for instance, there was a very wide mobilisation against the arrest and detention of the ‘Istanbul 10’, a group of human rights defenders who were persecuted because of their peaceful human rights activities.

Zehra was the editor of a feminist magazine called Jinha. She was arrested on trumped-up charges of belonging to an illegal organisation, because of her magazine’s critic of the Turkish states’ activities in Kurdistan.

Another aspect of Julie’s work in Turkey is to emphasise the importance of culture, arts and education in all policy areas. Zehra is an artist, and she has painted subjects from her life in Kurdistan. For instance, one of her works shows Diyarbakir with Turkish flags on the buildings, and Turkish military tanks are depicted as animals.

As a cultural activist, Julie believes art is a powerful disruptive tool. It’s constantly evolving and changing with societies. She thinks we should use culture to promote freedom of creation and expression as part of a cultural diplomacy strategy. She also works to promote cultural diversity. She advocates for the adoption of a rights-based approach to culture, not only in terms of access and participation to culture but also in relation to the freedom of creation and protection and promotion of cultural diversity, inside as well as outside the EU.

When it comes to education, Julie has also stood by persecuted academics in Turkey. For instance, she has supported Academics for Peace as they are doing a very important job in raising awareness of human rights violations in Turkey and Kurdistan.

Zehra has continued to paint from prison, with the materials she has found in her cell. Her works are very moving.

Zehra
Zehra's painting depicting Turkish tanks as animals

The third reason that made Julie choose to support Zehra is that she is Kurdish. I have supported the Kurdish movement since the beginning of my mandate, and more even since I visited Kurdistan for the first time in 2016.

The constant violations of human rights of the Kurds, including the right of peoples to self-determination, are appalling. The Turkish state has denied the Kurds their right to exist and has fought against them by using horrifying methods.

This year, I was an international observer in the Permanent People’s Tribunal for Turkey and the Kurds. It was a process in which international legal experts looked at the actions of the Turkish state in Kurdistan and even outside the territory and tried to determine whether it was guilty of violations of international law. The tribunal found that Turkey was guilty, and I was proud to host the Verdict Announcement conference in the European Parliament last May.

I support the Kurds because I stand by human rights and international law. But I have to say that as a socialist, I also support Ocalan’s ideology that puts tremendous importance on social justice and gender equality. This year, I had the chance to visit Rojava where I could see for myself how they put in place this ideology that we should all learn from.

The situation in Turkey is extremely worrying, and it reflects a global trend. Everywhere, human rights, democracy and rule of law are under attack by governments and far-right groups.

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