Fate of Turkish newspaper artist draws attention, sheds light on Ankara’s persecution of media

New York gallery exhibit work of Zaman’s Fevzi Yazici indicted on charges of “terrorism.”
Monday 18/05/2020
Fevzi Yazici speaking at Zaman newspaper (www. turkeypurge.com)
Fevzi Yazici speaking at Zaman newspaper (www. turkeypurge.com)

LONDON--A New York exhibition of the works of Turkish art director and newspaper designer Fevzi Yazici held in an Istanbul jail on terrorism charges shed light on the predicament of the imprisoned artist and that of other persecuted artists and media professionals in Turkey.

The exhibition at the Yeh Art Gallery in Queens, New York, went on from January to March and showcased 40 drawings by Yazici.

Greg Manifold, The Washington Post’s creative director, wrote May 15: “Fevzi Yazici missed the opening night of his first professional art exhibit. While other artists were proudly standing beside their work and posing for photographs at a gallery at St. John’s University in Queens, Yazici was 5,000 miles away in a prison cell in Turkey.”

Newspapers in the US and around the world are reproducing the intriguing drawings by the former chief designer of the now-shuttered Turkish newspaper Zaman.

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Yeh Art Gallery Exhibition Ad

Yazici, 48, used a ballpoint point from his prison cell, including more than 800 days in solitary confinement, to painstakingly finish his impressive drawings based on a time-consuming dotting technique.

“Yazici’s whimsical, yet puzzling drawings often imagine dream-like spaces and worlds with attenuated, wriggling figures and address themes related to transformation, emancipation, and psychological states,” a Yeh Art Gallery statement described his style.

The newspaper artist is currently serving a long prison sentence at Istanbul’s Silivri prison on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation and conspiring to topple the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the failed coup of 2016 as part of an alleged plot led by US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Photo of Fevzi Yazici before his arrest (twitter)
Photo of Fevzi Yazici before his arrest (twitter)

The extraordinary list of charges leveled against him include “attempting to eliminate the Constitutional order,” “attempting to eliminate the government of Turkey or to prevent it from its duties partially or totally through violence and force,” “attempting to eliminate the parliament of Turkey or to prevent it from its duties partially or totally through violence and force” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member.”

There was not much evidence presented to back the charges against the Yazici, who was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2018 (before his sentence was later reduced to a jail term of 12 years).

The United Nations was unequivocal in its assessment of the trial: “The court decision condemning journalists to life in prison for their work, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the coup attempt or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey.”

Cell and the fetus (Credit: Instagram)
Cell and the fetus (Credit: Instagram)

“I am an artist, as innocent as the pictures that I draw,” Yazici said in a letter read during the opening of the New York exhibition. “I am a journalist, as free as my thoughts. But I know that I am not going to be the first or the last innocent man in prison.”

Freedom of expression advocates say he is not the only Turkish artist or reporter in jail on flimsy charges. Yazici is one of 47 Turkish journalists in jail, according to a 2019 Committee to Protect Journalists report. The New York-based organisation says persecution of Turkish journalists and other media professionals continues unabated. The latest attack on the press targeted seven reporters accused of divulging the death of a Turkish intelligence operative in Libya as he took part in Ankara’s military and intelligence campaign in the North African state in support of the Islamist-backed Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj. On May 8, the journalists were charged with violating Turkey’s intelligence legislation. Their trial is to take place next month.