By Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Director of Campaigns for Europe
To be forgotten. People who have been wrongfully imprisoned say the fear of being forgotten is one of their biggest worries in prison.
The chilling fear that eventually, nobody will care about what happens to them. A creeping anxiety that they will languish in captivity, while the world outside slowly forgets their very existence.
Such thoughts have also slipped through the mind of Amnesty Turkey’s Honorary Chair, Taner Kılıç. This 6th of June, the human rights lawyer has been a deprived of his freedom for a whole year, although he’s done nothing wrong.
But throughout this ordeal, he has gained strength from the support of people all over the world: “Even if an imprisoned person may fall in the illusion that he would be forgotten even by his closest ones -like “forgotten prisoners”-my situation has been the opposite in fact.
In addition to my family and friends, I’ve become known in and watched by the world thanks to Amnesty International.”
Taner’s words take us back to the origins of the Amnesty International movement: Almost 60 years ago, on 28 May 1961, British newspaper the Observer published an article entitled “The forgotten prisoners”.
It was written by another lawyer, Peter Benenson , who had a simple idea: If enough people took injustice personally and wrote to governments treating people unfairly and with cruelty, they could creative positive change.
Benenson founded Amnesty International and coined the term “prisoners of conscience”-people imprisoned solely because of their views or beliefs.
Unfortunately, our colleague and friend Taner is just one of the many prisoners of conscience in the history of Turkey.
For decades, Amnesty activists have campaigned for and given hope to wrongfully imprisoned people in the country.
In 1964, ex-president Bayar sent a letter from jail to thank Amnesty for campaigning for his release.
In 1971, Professor Mümtaz Soysal wrote the following lines from prison, knowing that Amnesty activists all over the world were demanding his release:
“Soon, night will fall and they’ll close the cell doors. I don’t feel lonely, I am with the whole of mankind and mankind is with me.”
After the failed coup attempt in July 2016, the authorities have deliberately used the ongoing state of emergency as an excuse to wipe out civil society.
Human rights defenders, journalists, union members, lawyers and other civil society actors live in a constant climate of fear, not knowing if they’re next in line for the dawn knock on their door because of a tweet, an article, a speech, for simply doing their work. For each and every one of them, one more day of imprisonment is one more day of injustice.
At Amnesty International, we will never tire of fighting for their release.
We will keep talking about Turkey and support the brave people on the ground that struggle to defend human rights in the country. And we will keep counting the days until Taner steps out of the prison gates, and, finally, can embrace his wife and daughters in freedom.
Until this moment comes, you can help keep his spirits up by sending messages of solidarity.
As Taner says: “Your letters and support give me power”.
Let’s continue to show him, and the other people wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey, that they will never be forgotten prisoners.