We meet here today in solidarity with our friends, documentary directors Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu. They witnessed the possibility of peace and they kept a record of it for us to remember, and now they face prison sentence, ruled according to enemy criminal law.
Their documentary, Bakur (North), filmed the PKK’s camps within Turkey and recorded the organization’s withdrawal from Turkey, during the peace process in 2013. The premiere of the documentary was scheduled for the Istanbul International Film Festival in 2015, but it was prevented one day before due to the fact that it did not have the film certificate. This caused a major international scandal. Afterwards, Bakur met with tens of thousands of spectators in and outside Turkey. It was screened in important international documentary festivals such as DOKleipzig in Germany, Visions du Réel in Switzerland and Stockholm Film Festival in Sweden.
One of the screenings of Bakur in Turkey took place in May 2015, in Batman at Yilmaz Guney Cinema. Exactly two years after this screening, in 2017, the directors of the film Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu were charged with “terrorist propaganda”. At the seventh hearing of the case, last Thursday, on 18 July 2019, Batman 2nd High Criminal Court sentenced the directors Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu to 4 years and 6 months imprisonment in their absentia, without even hearing their last statements. Even though the lawyers reported an excuse, the court dismissed the right to defense and announced the verdict. The court also disregarded Çayan Demirel’s 99% Continuous Disability Report he has due to a heart attack he suffered immediately after completing the Bakur documentary and imposed a ban on leaving the country for both directors for reasons such as “there was no positive conviction that they would not commit a crime again” and “the possibility of escaping the execution”.
The Batman 2nd High Criminal Court’s jail sentence to the directors of the Bakur documentary is not the first. In February 2019, the same court sentenced Veysi Altay, the director of the documentary Nû Jîn (New Life), to 2 years and 6 months in prison again on charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”. The same court sentenced the manager of the Batman Yılmaz Güney Cinema, Dicle Anter to 2 years and 1 month of imprisonment on the same charges. In the Bakur documentary case, prison sentences were increased to 4 and a half years. This is yet another black mark on the history of cinema in Turkey.
Bakur documentary, which began to be filmed in 2013 during the peace process and met with tens of thousands of spectators since 2015, is a work of art that does not encourage violence, does not justify terrorist acts, and aims to create a sense of peace instead of hate. The verdict of enemy criminal law taken by the Batman 2nd High Criminal Court, both disregards artistic freedom of expression of film directors, and is a direct threat and violation of the freedom of expression for all film producers working in Turkey.
Freedom of artistic expression, protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, guarantees that artists work freely, that they promote their work freely, and that these rights can not be interfered with. Making a documentary film must be accepted within the range of freedom of expression. It can not be evaluated as a criminal act, even according to the current Anti Terror Law of Republic of Turkey, and the prosecution of its directors is completely against the law. For this reason, the directors should not have been sentenced to imprisonment. In fact, this case should have never been opened. We do not accept this decision, given as a result of a trial that is contrary to the decisions of our own Constitution, the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. As filmmakers, we are determined to continue our struggle against the denial of our right to free production and as spectators our right to free access to cinematic works.
Solidarity Platform for Bakur Documentary
July 20, 2019