The Turkish Supreme Court this week upheld a six-year prison sentence for two Czechs convicted on charges of terrorism in 2017. The Czech couple Marketa Všelichová and Miroslav Farkas, humanitarian workers who vehemently denied the accusations that they had assisted the Kurdish militia YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, have thus exhausted all the legal possibilities of appeal in Turkey. I spoke to their close friend Janusz Konieczny to find out what conditions they are being held in and how they feel about this latest set-back.
“It is a very absurd case, you know, because Mirek and Marketa only wanted to help war victims in the north of Syria. And this situation is very difficult for them. They are used to being active, taking part in humanitarian projects and now they are locked up in prison. But at least many people send them letters of support and they can be in contact with their families by mail.”
How long have they been in jail for now?
“It is from August 2016 (when they were detained), so it has been a year and a half.”
What conditions are they being kept in? Does anyone have direct contact with them, apart from the Czech consul and their lawyer?
“They are allowed to be in contact with their families by phone, but only once every two weeks on a Sunday. It is also possible to send them letters, but the mail must be in English and is censored. The letters must not contain any information related to the case and so on. There are many rules restricting communication with them. For instance we tried sending a Czech-English dictionary to Mirek because his English is not very good, but there is a rule that Mirek and Marketa cannot have any documents in Czech, so we couldn’t get the dictionary to him.”
Why is that?
“Because they would have to translate anything in Czech and they do not want to do that.”
Have family members been allowed to visit them?
“Yes, a family member can visit them once every six months. So for instance Marketa’s father is allowed a visit twice a year. And, of course, the Czech consul can visit them and their lawyer.”
And how have they found them? Are they complaining about anything? Are they getting medical attention?
What are the conditions in a Turkish prison for people convicted on charges of terrorism? How are they being treated?
“They are allowed to spend some time outdoors in a very small garden, but that is possible only once a week, I think, I am not sure exactly how often. But Marketa said in one of her letters she can sometimes go to this garden and run, running in circles in this small enclosed place.”
And the food is edible?
“The food is most likely OK, because neither have complained about it in their letters.”
Presumably they have not been able to speak to each other since the verdict.
“This was possible during the court hearings, later I think not. But they can send each other letters.”
They can write to each other?
“Yes. There are two prisons in Van and Marketa is in one and Mirek in the other. So they do not see one another but they can write.”
Do you know how they are taking this latest verdict? Has it been a bad blow?
“Yes, it has been. They want to get home. They are in contact with their friends and family by mail, but they just want to come home. It has been a year and a half now. And they only wanted to help. They do not want to fight against Turkey or anything. Marketa is a slight girl. She could not even use a heavy machine gun. So the accusations against them made no sense. So now they spend their time sitting and thinking about it and they feel that it is not fair.”
Now that they have exhausted all the legal possibilities of appeal in Turkey, will they file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights?
“We have six months to prepare such a complaint. Unfortunately, there are not many alternatives. We can only hope that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs will try to agree on some kind of solution with Turkey.”
What kind of solution are we talking about? Because, if they were to be allowed to serve the rest of their sentence at home, the Czech Republic would have to accept the guilty verdict, which would be difficult in view of the fact that the country does not consider the YPG a terrorist organization….Is there any chance at all of them serving the rest of their sentence in the Czech Republic?
“The Foreign Ministry is trying to find a way. But it is proving difficult trying to reach agreement on this with Turkey. I don’t know what the chances are of such an agreement being reached – whether there is a 20 percent chance or a 50 percent chance…we can only hope.”