The Woman vs. The State: Interview with Pinar Selek
An extract from The Woman Vs. The State originally published in Vice Magazine, by Esra Gürmen
When she found out that the Supreme Court had revoked her second acquittal, she went to visit her father, who is also one of her lawyers. He advised her to leave the country immediately in case the prosecution demanded an emergency detention – she had been tried for life imprisonment. Selek flew to Berlin where she was granted a PEN Writers in Exile scholarship and stayed there until 2011, when she moved to Strasbourg to begin a PhD in political sciences.
In the first few months of her exile, she lived out of her suitcase, staying in different places and continuing to write. In an article describing her years in exile she drew comparisons to the labyrinthine architecture of the Garden of Exile in the Jewish Museum in Berlin to describe the feeling of not being able to grasp the ground below your feet when you’re without a country.
Gradually she carved out a new life for herself and turned her exile to her advantage. “I call it désexil,” she says, resorting to French to describe a feeling she first encountered in another language. “It means I’ve risen up to it. I’ve kept working and got involved in new activist networks,” she says. I ask her if being a thinker in exile grants her a special status in her personal relationships, and whether she sways between feeling like a victim and a hero. Could this lead to a form of narcissism? “I became aware of that [possibility] early on when I was released from prison. I promised myself that I’d never play that game,” she says. “But I never forget that I am a victim. Distancing yourself from your victimhood doesn’t mean you ignore it, but you don’t build an identity upon it. Instead I focus on my work while the solidarity group [Justice for Pınar Selek] takes care of the politics.”
In her absence she was still being tried in Turkey. Two years after her self-imposed exile, the Supreme Court demanded the annulment of her acquittal once more. In 2012, a newly appointed, temporary committee – formed when the case’s original judge was on sick leave – of the Heavy Penal Court annulled its own acquittal decision, and the back and forth ended on the 24th of January 2013, when the same court sentenced Selek to life imprisonment. The following summer, the court issued an international warrant requesting France hand over Selek, which Interpol refused to act on.
“Pınar’s case bears similarities to the Guildford Four case,” says Akın Atalay, one of Selek’s lawyers, referring to the group who were wrongfully convicted of bombings carried out by the IRA in two pubs in Guildford in 1974. He says that Selek’s case is a classical example of judicial miscarriage. “The political climate in Turkey still allows for this,” he says, pointing out that there are so many people who have been incriminated without credible evidence. “Pınar’s luck is that she had the public opinion and the international community behind her.”
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