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Esber Yagmurdereli


Ludovic Trarieux Prize Winner 2000



Esber Yagmurdereli

Photo courtesy International P.E.N.

The sixth "LUDOVIC-TRARIEUX INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE" was awarded on March 2th 2000, to the Turkish blind writer, lawyer, and human right activist, Esber Yagmurdereli, jailed since June 1998, for having expressed his views on the Kurdish issue.

The Jury asked for immediate release of Esber Yagmurdereli.

The Prize was hand over to the Prize winner's son, Mr Ugur Yagmurdereli, on September 29th 2000 in the National School of the Judiciary in Bordeaux.


Born in 1945, Yagmurdereli went blind at the age of ten. He graduated from Ankara University in law and philosophy, and then qualified as a lawyer. During the 1970s, when he practised in Turkey's Black Sea region, he became prominent for his defence of many leading left-wing political figures and political prisoners. He simultaneously edited several magazines, including Yeni Eylem, a political journal founded in 1968, and he made a name for himself a poet and short-story writer. One of his short stories won him a famous literary prize.

These activities were cut short, however, by his arrest in March 1978 when he was charged with "supporting illegal political movements" and also a confusing plethora of charges. He was variously accused of hiding stolen goods, leading an armed robbery, and membership of an illegal organisation. The insubstantial criminal evidence against him devolved into two allegations: first, that weapons had been found in the house of one of his clients, and second, that a search of one of his neighbour's houses elicited some jewellery that the police said had been stolen. On 5 March 1978 - twenty-one years ago - the blind writer, lawyer and human rights activist Esber Yagmurdereli walked into prison for the rirst time, aged 33.

It took a court seven years to announce a verdict of guilty, in a trial that Amnesty International said fell far short of international standards.

While he was serving his jail term, the militaries in power, following the 1980 overthrow, decided, in 1982, to change his sentence and in March 1985, Esber Yagmurdereli was sentenced to death, for " trying to change the constitutional order by force ", commutted to life on account of his blindness.

His friends and colleagues were in no doubt that the case against him had been framed as a way to silence him and halt his legal and literary activities. Esber Yagmurdereli was offered a pardon, but he refused to accept on the grounds that he was not guilty, seeking a fair retrial instead.

When the remainder of his term was suspended in 1991, under a general amnesty for political prisoners Esber Yagmurdereli was granted release on condition that he never be convicted again.

However, no sooner was he free, than he gave a rousing speech at a meeting in Istanbul organised by the Turkish Human Rights Association, trouncing the authorities, and declaring that the Kurdish : "Rejecting the oppression of thousands of years and the inhuman conditions in which they have been forced to live, [...] fought to find freedom."

His words were construed on the grounds of Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorist Law, as dissemination of 'separatist propaganda' and after a protracted legal process, a ten-month sentence against him was confirmed.

Esber Yagmurdereli made several appeals during his ten-month jail term, all of which had been refused. Consequently, he was facing what was left of the sentence of life imprisonment handed down by the Military Court in 1982, as well as the ten months sentence pronounced by the Security Court under Article 8, of the Anti-Terror Law. The court judgement stated that " ... part of the country was named as Kurdistan and the inhuman activities of the PKK were called the struggle of the Kurdish people for independence ... the Turkish Republic was slandered by praising these illegal activities. "

In August 1997, the Samsun Criminal Court ruled that Esber Yagmurdereli had broken the conditions of his release from his original life sentence, and ordered him to serve 17 years and 3 months.

On October 19th, 1997, Esber Yagmurdereli after having spent 14 years in prison on political charges, was taken into custody as he finished taping an interview at the studios of the KANAL D television station.

Esber Yagmurdereli was finally released on Monday, November 10th, 1997, after being pardoned by President Demirel, officially "on health reasons" but in truth on the eve of the European Union's Luxembourg summit, and against his will as well. Just in time for the government to convince the leaders at the Luxembourg Summit that Turkey was truly democratizing, but, seeing that his release had not served its purpose and managed to sway the EU's decision, it relented of the former parole. Indeed, the decision that had been taken regarding his case only postponed, for one year, the two sentences pronounced against him.

His arrest was re-ordered in January 1998 and, despite international protests on his behalf,

Esber Yagmurdereli was jailed on Monday, June 1st, 1998, in Ankara, while visiting his lawyer.This arrest results from his refusal to provide a medical certificate to support the presidential claim that he was pardoned because of his health problems.

Yagmurdereli is now in Çankiri Prison, about 130 kilometres from Ankara. It is believed that, taking into account Turkey's complicated laws regarding remission of sentences, he is due for release in about 2015. Yagmurdereli, meanwhile, seems resigned to the fact that for some time to come he is destined to stay in jail. "Freedom of expression should not be a crime", he told reporters as police took him away. "We have to fight for it". As he once observed : " There is nothing further I can do. I am ready to go to jail and wait for a political decision, for political change, for constitutional change, that will allow me to be freed".

While in prison in the 1980s, Esber Yagmurdereli became known as a gifted writer of short stories, winning a national competition in 1986. His reputation as a human rights activist has also increased. In 1996 his assistance was critical in helping to resolve a prison hunger-strike in which 12 prisoners died. He recently expanded his literary interests to encompass drama. In 1997, the Ankara Arts Theater produced his play, Akrep ("Scorpion"), which deals with the death penalty and describes five days Yagmurdereli spent with a prisoner who was hanged in 1982.

Esber Yagmurdereli's imprisonment is in violation of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Turkey is a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In failing to guarantee Esber Yagmurdereli his fundamental right of freedom of expression Turkey is in breach of Article 10. The failure to guarantee a fair trial has contravened Article 6.

His son, Ugur - who was born two weeks after his father's initial arrest in 1978 - is his outspoken advocate : he recently staged a campaigning Cycle Ride to draw attention to his father's continuing imprisonment. Amnesty International has adopted Esber Yagmurdereli as a Prisoner of Conscience and demanded that his sentence be quashed and all prisoners of concience be released. He is an Honorary Member of the Canadian, Czech, San Miguel, Slovak and Swedish PEN Centres.

Being as he is no doubt one of the most famous prisoners of conscience in Turkey, the release of Esber Yagmurdereli, as well as other prisoners of conscience, would symbolise the true willingness of Turkish authorities to move towards a greater democracy and the Europan Union.

The candidacy of Esber Yagmurdereli was pretented by " PEN International - Writers in prison "

  • September 29, 2000 : Ceremony award of Sixth International Human Rights Ludovic-Trarieux Prize given to Esber Yagmurdereli



    Please, ask for immediate release of Esber Yagmurdereli.

    Participate to
    "The Free Yagmurdereli Campaign "


    1) Please write politely worded letters to the Turkish authorities listed below telling that Esber Yagmurdereli's imprisonment constitutes a violation of Turkey’s obligation under Article 6, 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a contravention of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Urge that legislation criminalizing human rights advocacy and non-violent free-expression, should be revised. Express concern that while he is in prison Esber Yagmurdereli should receive all necessary medical attention .
    2) In addition, please send copies of your letters to your country's ambassador to Turkey, as well as to the Turkish embassy in your country and ask for an appointment to discuss his case in more detail. When there, you can argue three things. First, given normal procédures for remission for good behaviour in Turkey, Esber bas now served out his 10-month term for the speech he gave in Istanbul in 1991. Second, the original life sentence against him was handed down in a trial much criticised by human rights experts on unconvincing evidence that he was guilty of anything other than peacefully expressing his opinions. Third, if Turkey wishes to demonstrate its commitment to protecting the human rights of all its citizens, Esber Yagmurdereli should now be unconditionally freed.
    3) Please, Write also to Mr Günter Verheugen, the E U Enlargement Commissioner in Brussels telling that, as stated in 1993, at the Copenhagen European Council E U membership requires that the candidate country has achieved " stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities " that Turkey's candidacy bid has until now been hampered by concerns among EU states over its human rights record, , that the European Commission accepted that Turkey be considered for membership candidacy at the Helsinki summit of December 1999 but that serious shortcomings are existing in Ankara's human rights record and protection of minorities , that Turkey violates freedom of ex^pression eoropean stan dards and refuses to grant minority rights such as education in their own language to its Kurdish population, arguing that to do so would undermine equality among its citizens , that Esber Yagmurdereli's imprisonment constitutes a violation of Turkey’s obligation under Article 6, 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a contravention of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and that Yagmurdereli’s and aother political prisoners release must be the first step before examining the Turkey’s candidacy and urging that turkish legislation criminalizing human rights advocacy and non-violent free-expression, should be revised.
    4) You can also write letters to Esber Yagmurdereli, sending congratulations for he is elected for the 6 th " Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize ".

    Although Esber is blind, fellow inmates of his will be able to read him your messages of support. His address is: Çankiri Cezaevi, Çankiri, Turkey. Faxes can be sent through to the prison on +90 376 213 24 35.

    See page :
    "The Free Yagmurdereli Campaign "

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