4 Things to Know About Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan and the Painting That Landed Her in Prison

From the journalism award she's won to what she said in her defense.

Zehra Doğan. Courtesy of Voice Project.

Last week, the Turkish-Kurdish artist, journalist, and activist Zehra Doğan was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for creating a painting that portrays the Kurdish town of Nusaybin after its destruction by Turkish security forces.

Doğan depicted the scene with Turkish flags hanging from Nusaybin’s destroyed buildings—a move that came with heavy consequences, as the Turkish government’s response was to accuse her of spreading terrorist propaganda.

In the wake of her controversial sentencing, Doğan’s case has received considerable media attention, including a page titled “Free Zehra Doğan” on the Voice Project website.

Here, we have gathered what you need to know about the Turkish-Kurdish artist.

1. In addition to her work as an artist, Doğan is a writer and editor for the feminist news agency JINHA.
JINHA is a feminist Kurdish news site that publishes in English, Turkish, and Kurdish, with a staff composed entirely of women. As a result of her work for JINHA, Doğan was accused of being a member of an illegal organization, despite the fact that no witness present was able to identify her by name.

According to Voice Project, an anonymous witness testified, “There was… a short lady with a nose ring… I do not know the individual’s identity; she is probably a journalist.”

Doğan defended her actions by categorizing them as journalistic activities.

2. Her journalistic activities have continued in prison, where she and other women have created the newspaper Özgür Gündem Zindan (Free Agenda Dungeon).
The publication’s name is a play on Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda), an Istanbul-based publication that catered to Kurdish audiences and has battled consistent persecution and closures.

According to Ifex.org, the version created in the Mardin Women’s Prison found its way beyond bars when visitors posted photos of it social media.

3. Doğan was the 2015 recipient of the Metin Göktepe Journalism Award.
Named after Metin Göktepe—the journalist tortured and murdered in police custody in Turkey in 1996—the Metin Göktepe Journalism Award is given yearly for excellence in written journalism.

Doğan received the award in 2015 for her work on a series of articles about Yazidi women escaping from ISIS captivity.

4. In a statement defending herself, Doğan blamed the Turkish government.
“I was given [a prison sentence of] two years and 10 months only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it,” Doğan posted in a now-deleted tweet as reported by the Turkish human rights platform Turkey Purge.

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