On Sunday, the Turkish-Kurdish artist and journalist Zehra Doğan was freed from a Turkish prison, following a lengthy 25-month sentence for painting a local military attack.
Doğan was an outspoken editor of the feminist news agency Jinha, prior to her imprisonment in March 2017. According to the Turkish criminal court, Doğan was charged for “spreading terrorist propaganda” after posting a photograph on social media of her watercolour painting.
The painting in question depicted the town of Nusaybin, a Kurdish province of Mardin, which was destroyed by Turkish security forces in 2016. Based on a photograph of the devastated town, the painting is littered with vivid red Turkish flags. Plumes of smoke rise from ruined buildings, whilst in the foreground Doğan transformed Turkish military vehicles into monstrous mechanical creatures.
Turkish authorities believed this painting associated the artist with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which are considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.
Doğan’s shocking arrest prompted immediate outrage from human rights advocacy groups, art communities and journalists alike.
A spokesman for the campaign group ‘Free Zehra Doğan’ asserted, “Turkey has created problems for artists and journalists for decades, but this period [under President Tayyip Erdogan] is the worst. Artists who express ideas that the [Turkish] government dislikes find themselves threatened, excluded from projects or in prison, like Zehra.”
One of the most infamous protests to her arrest appeared in the form of a huge mural painting by UK street artist Banksy in March 2018. The 70-foot long artwork in New York showed Doğan behind multiple tally marks, which represented the number of days she had spent in prison. Banksy presented Doğan defiantly grasping a pencil in her left hand.
Banksy told The New York Times “I really feel for her,” and remarked “I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence.”
Whilst in prison Doğan continued to paint, using scraps of paper and even her own menstrual blood to create artwork. Amnesty International also organised a major exhibition of her work last summer at the city library in Detmold, Germany, to help raise international awareness of Doğan’s case.
Despite the terrible conditions she endured, Doğan firmly believes “this painting was worth my time in prison because I managed to show the reality of [the Kurdish region of] Nusaybin.”