On International Women’s Day, I received the disturbing news that a former Facebook friend, Rizkiye Eribol, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in Turkey for her pro-Kurdish commentary on social media. My heart goes out to her and her young daughter, Selma. No matter what she shared on Facebook and she shared nothing but innocuous words, she did not deserve to spend a day incarcerated, let alone facing 18 months away from her daughter in unjust and cruel deprivation of her liberty.
Rizkiye is a headstrong woman in her mid-30s from the conservative Kurdish city of Bitlis in Turkey’s southeast. She had a fallout with her family after she ran away with and married a Turk who had previously served as a soldier in Turkey’s counter-insurgency against the Kurds. She was once marked for honour killing. In our private conversations, she credited her ex-husband for changing her views from that of a self-hating Kurd to a proud one because he returned from the war as a changed man himself.
Nevertheless, their marriage failed due to domestic violence and she was left working and raising their daughter alone in the resort town of Bodrum on the Mediterrenean coast, while her ex was jailed for other violent crimes. Rizkiye herself remained politically active, at one stage serving as the head of Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) Bodrum branch. Her HDP membership and pro-Kurdish social media commentary often drew the ire of the local police, and she was detained and abused in custody.
The last time we spoke was back in September, when she called me from the courthouse to give the good news that her case had been adjourned for another month. Later in the year, she and I had a public fall out, following her several Facebook posts which were popular with others but highly disagreeable with me. The parting words of this strong-willed, intelligent woman before she blocked me is an instant classic that still brings a smile to my face. In a play up of famous PKK women’s slogan of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (Woman, Life, Freedom), “Jin, Jiyan, Orgasm,” she said.
Rizkiye’s case is not unique in Turkey today. Following the January 20 launch of Turkish-jihadi invasion of Afrin in Syria, Turkish police have detained and jailed hundreds of social media users who have expressed views critical of the Erdogan government’s offensive. Turkish authorities have set up ‘dob-in-a-neighbour’ websites where Facebook friends and Twitter followers can inform on one another to the thought police for commentary not in line with the government’s talking points. Those of us who live in the west are fearful of visiting our families now, lest we too get arrested for our social media contribution.
The phrase ‘Facebook jail’ is a euphemism for getting banned, often for short periods, for breaching Facebook founder and owner Mark Zuckerberg’s social media rules. There are however states out there with draconian laws on social media; states whose officials physically remove people from their family and community and lock them up behind real bars even though their commentary was not in breach of Mr Zuckerberg’s rules.
Perhaps, it’s time for Mr Zuckerberg to take a strong, principled action on this matter. He is under a moral obligation to help those who face real imprisonment for comments made on Facebook. We live in the day and age of citizen journalist where we express facts and opinions of political or religious nature using the medium invented and owned by Mr Zuckerberg. Traditional media owners support journalists who have been charged for alleged offences made in print; so should Mr Zuckerberg for alleged online offences. A page in which he names and shames the states for incarcerating people for posts that are not in breach of Facebook’s own rules would be a good start. A legal fund to defend the alleged offenders would be even better.
Rizkiye needs our support, needs your support, needs Mark Zuckerberg’s support. She needs to be with her daughter Selma, not doing time in Turkey’s overcrowded jails for her pro-Kurdish rights posts on Facebook. I urge all of my friends to share this post far and wide in order to bring Mark Zuckerberg’s attention to this matter and urge for his help to arrest Turkey’s assault on free speech and to free Rizkiye Eribol.