Prisoner of Conscience: İlhan Sami Çomak, Turkey
“No cage can contain the colours of my heart”, writes Kurdish poet İlhan Sami Çomak in his poem Life Is Seeing the Flight of a Butterfly. In fact, he has written all eight of his poetry collections in prison.
He was arrested in 1994 and had been in jail ever since, which makes him one of the longest serving political prisoners in Turkey. At the time of his detention, he was a 22-year-old university student, charged with starting a forest fire and with having (alleged) links with the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party, a crime under Turkish law.
Despite little evidence to support these accusations, he was convicted because he confessed under torture. During the years since, Çomak has maintained his innocence.
In 2000, a Turkish court sentenced him to death but his punishment was converted to life in prison. After the Turkish Court of Cassation upheld that verdict, Çomak brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which decided that the poet had not had a fair trial. Back in Turkey, the case was reopened but upheld the sentence in 2013.
In 2019 he won the prestigious poetry award Sennur Sezer for his latest book, Geldim Sana (I Came to You).
In 2020 PEN Norway made Çomak an honorary member, along with other persecuted writers and journalists, and launched a campaign urging for the immediate release of the poet. That same year, a group of renowned writers and poets published an open letter, urging the British government to step up their efforts to free Çomak. In addition, the British poet and translator Georges Szirtes published an opinion piece in The Guardian calling for Çomak to be freed.
Unfortunately, Çomak is not the only writer imprisoned in Turkey. In 2017 Nedim Türfent, another Kurdish journalist and poet, featured as well in our Prisoners of Conscience campaign, was sentenced to jail for nearly nine years for “membership in a terrorist organization” and “making terrorist propaganda”. While the actual number of political prisoners in Turkey is unknown, international human rights organizations have criticized the country for abusing its anti-terrorism law to jail political opponents, human rights advocates, journalists, and writers on trumped-up charges.
Disclaimer: As of December 10, 2021 İlhan Sami Çomak is still in prison, serving the remainder of his sentence.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.