Saturday, 14 August 2010

Jake Hess and Turkey

A recent tweet and blog by journalist Johann Hari (follow him on Twitter: @johannhari101) alerted me of the plight of the journalist Jake Hess in Turkey.  He has been arrested and imprisoned for reporting on the situation of the Kurds at the hands of Turkey and Iran.  Having just been to Turkey and enjoyed it very much -- it truly is an astoundingly beautiful and evocative place -- the story resonated with me.  It seems crazy that we still have this situation in the 21st century, a situation where government interest and political gumpf take precedence over human needs and rights and the freedom to tell the truth about what is happening.  Although Turkey felt a modern and vibrant place to be, there are some draconian laws surrounding freedom of speech and some startlingly lax approaches to protecting the rights of their fellow human beings. You cannot criticise Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey; you can't use YouTube because it is censored by the authorities. This seems very much at odds to me with the image that Turkey wants to present to the world.

At the prompting of Mr Hari via Twitter, I decided to write the Turkish government a letter.  Please do the same if you feel stirred in the same way that I did.  I have copied my effort below.  The address to write to is

Dear Sir/Madam,

Having recently returned from a holiday in your fabulously beautiful country, having experienced the warmth, generosity and hospitality of the Turkish people at first hand and loved every moment of it, I was shocked to read of the situation in which the respected American journalist Jake Hess finds himself in.  I cannot believe that a modern and respected country like yours would imprison a journalist merely for reporting about the situations of real people in real places.  Objectivity in journalism is not the same as supporting or sympathising with terrorism.  A journalist's job is to report on the situations that real people encounter and telling others about them.  Mr Hess is a freelance journalist and telling the stories of people in various situations and finding out more about them is what he does for a living.  Whether you like it or not, the world is aware of the plight of the Kurds and we all, as fellow human beings, have the right to learn more about it and offer support or criticism to them or to governments as we see fit.  It is for this reason that the work of journalists like Jake Hess is vital.  It may not always suit your country's wishes, but that's the way it goes sometimes; human interest should always trump political and ideological interest.

On my trip, I attended the Istanbul Modern art gallery.  I was inspired at the radical creativity and passion for life and art that I saw there.  If I'm honest, it took me by surprise to see the freedom and vigour with which the artists of your country expressed themselves, both women and men.  It challenged the preconceptions and stereotypes that live within me and in all human beings.  I cannot emphasise enough how sad I feel to have this feeling of inspiration and enlightenment crushed by the disappointment and frustration of the situation involving your government and Mr Hess.  Surely, you want to show the world that you are an open, progressive country that supports the ideas of truth and justice?

The idea that a respected and esteemed American journalist is involved with terrorism is a ludicrous one -- I believe he is being held at the Diyarbakir Anti-Terrorism Branch -- and your government should, if it has any semblance of the self-respect and integrity that I witnessed in many of its citizens in my recent trip, release Mr Hess immediately.

Yours faithfully,
Liam Owen.