Meral Şimşek is the prize-winning author of three poetry books – Mülteci Düşler (Refugee Dreams), Ateşe Bulut Yağdıran (Clouds on Fire) and İncir Karası(Black Fig). Her novel Nar Lekesi (Pomegranate Stain), published in 2017, tells the story of Şimşek’s family and sheds light on the plight of Kurdish people in Turkey in the 1990s. She became a member of Kurdish PEN in June 2020. She also works as an editor and frequently publishes poems and articles.
On 9 December 2020, anti-terror police detained Şimşek in Malatya province, Eastern Turkey. She was released the following day pending trial and placed under a travel ban. In January 2021, the Malatya 2nd High Criminal Court formally charged her with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 314/2 of Turkey’s Penal Code and ‘making terrorist propaganda’ under Article 7/2 of Anti-Terror Law No. 3713.
Şimşek fled to Greece on 29 June 2021. Greek police reportedly stopped, strip-searched her, and confiscated her identity documents and phone following her arrival. She reports having been forced into a car before being handed over to masked individuals who made her cross the border back into Turkey. On 30 June, she was detained by Turkish police at the Ipsala border crossing and sent to Edirne Prison, where she spent seven days in poor detention conditions. On 6 July, she appeared in court via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS. She was released and asked to report to the police station three times a week. A separate case on the charge of ‘entering a restricted military area’ in Ipsala was filed against her, for which she faces up to five years in prison. The hearing will take place on 16 November 2021.
The situation for freedom of expression in Turkey remains dire. Kurdish culture and language are harshly repressed. Most pro-Kurdish and Kurdish language media outlets have been closed down, and dozens of journalists of Kurdish or pro-Kurdish outlets are in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges, including news editor, reporter and poet Nedim Türfent. Writer and former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş remains behind bars, despite the European Court of Human Rights twice rulingfor his immediate release. Kurdish PEN member and writer Gulgeş Deryaspîwas sentenced to six years and three months in prison for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ in December 2020. A verdict on her appeal is pending. PEN International calls for her conviction to be overturned.