Basharat Bashir

Featured Artist: Zehra Dogan

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Zehra Dogan is a Kursdish artist and journalist who was arrested and imprisoned in 2017 for her art. Born in 1989 the 31 year old artist and journalist Zehra Dogan was charged with “terrorist propaganda” which was an initial reaction of Turkish government on her revolutionary news coverage, social media posts, and her paintings. In one of her paintings for which she was actually imprisoned, she had depicted the destruction of the Nusaybin a town in southeastern Turkey, after the clashes between state security forces and Kurdish insurgents. Whole town was set ablaze by Turkish security forces and according to Amnesty International around 500,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to the violent crackdown.

Zehra founded a feminist Kurdish news agency ‘Jinha’ which was an all-female staff news agency, and was closed by Turkish authorities on 29 October 2016, as one of over 100 media outlets shut down since the failed coup detat in July 2016. In February 2016, Dogan moved to and began reporting from Nusaybin.

Zehra was detained on 21 July 2016 at a cafe in Nusaybin and then incarcerated on 23 July in Mardin prison. Her release pending trial was ordered on the 9 December of the same year. On 2 March 2017, she was acquitted of the charge of “belonging to an illegal organization”, but was sentenced to 2 years, 9 months and 22 days in jail for her news reporting and posting her painting on social media. She appealed the sentence but it was confirmed and she was arrested on 12 July 2017. Following the sentence Zehra wrote on twitter “I was given two years and 10 months only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, they (Turkish government) caused this. I only painted it,”

In prison, she and other women created the newspaper Ozgur Gundem Zindan (Free Agenda Dungeon), whose name is a wordplay on Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda), an Istanbul-based publication that catered to Kurdish audiences.

Many renowned artists around the world showed solidarity with Zehra and pushed for her release.  In November 2017, revolutionary Chinese artist Ai WeiWei published a letter in solidarity with Dogan’s case, drawing parallels between Chinese and Turkish repression of artistic expression. Zehra Dogan answers the artist from prison: “Art is the best instrument for the struggle”.

On 16 March 2018, the most famous England-based graffiti artist, Banksy unveiled a mural in New York, measuring 70 feet long, showing black tally marks for the days of Dogan’s imprisonment, with one set becoming bars behind which Dogan’s face looks out from jail. In an interview to The New York Times, Banksy hadn said, “I really feel for her… I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence.”

Zehra was released from imprisonment from Tarsus Prison after she finished her sentence, on 24 February 2019.

Zehra received my national and international recognitions and awards, in 2015 she received Metin Goktepe Journalism Award for her work about Yazidi women escaping from ISIS captivity followed by Rebellion’s Artist in the World 2017 award bestowed by the Global Investigative Journalism Network. In 2017, she received Freethinker Prize, along with an Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, and Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) prize.  In 2018 Deutscher Journalisten Verbrand (The German Journalists Association) awarded her with “Spring of Press Freedom” prize.  In 2020, during the 14th edition of the Festival of Feminine Excellence in Genoa, Italy, she received the “Hypatia Award for International Feminine Excellence”.

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