Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dear President Trump, I’m the prisoner with cancer and you’re punishing my family. It’s time for you to intervene

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I was wrong. I learned earlier this month that my father, Mohamed Chol Eid, is suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer in a Turkish prison. Last year, my family was one of many victims of Turkey’s brutal counterterrorism strategy, but now we are the subject of an unprecedented and unlawful campaign of persecution.

Unlike many other prominent prisoners of conscience in Turkey, we were not accused of being journalists or students. Instead, our only offense was criticizing the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I grew up in Turkey’s Kurdish heartland, and I found myself forced to confront a fundamental divide between urban and rural Turks. The villagers, the majority of whom live in the Anatolian hinterland, feel deprived of many basic democratic rights and reject the ambitions of Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-minded government.

A corruption scandal that erupted in December 2016 revealed Mr. Erdogan’s ruthlessness toward opposition and inconvenient voices. Many of the plotters went to jail, including eight of my family members. Only two have been able to leave the country. One left in April, after undergoing successful surgery. The other is locked up in Turkey’s cell block 8B, one of the most isolated in the country. He is in his 50s, is the father of five children, and has diabetes and hypertension.

My father’s health is deteriorating fast. He is breathing with difficulty and his kidneys are failing. He is unable to eat or drink liquids and has no access to any medical treatment. He spends his days in isolation on the same floor as so many other prisoners. Mr. Erdogan is trying to isolate him further, without any medical care.

Meanwhile, his lawyers and family members are receiving repeated threats and physical attacks. They have been barred from visiting my father, or even his lawyers. They have been physically dragged away. A few days ago, they were forced to flee their home in Ankara, fearing for their lives.

Instead of treating the cancer that has spread throughout my father’s body, the Turkish authorities want to stifle his freedom of expression. They are punishing my father, who is the legal guardian of several Kurdish detainees in prison and receives no payment for this important work. Mr. Erdogan could let my father go after exhausting all avenues of appeal and reconsider his appeal, or is planning to put him in solitary confinement and give him no access to any legal aid. We fear that this is the government’s real agenda: Putting obstacles in his way to prevent my father’s plea from being heard.

Our determination to speak out has cost my father and my family dearly. While his treatment in prison is critical to his survival, he is unable to visit his grandchildren in our village, because he has lost the connection to family and friends. I am afraid that the prison doctors have not even informed my family of my father’s medication. According to international norms, these are not enough reasons to put someone in prison. The situation with my father is extremely precarious, and our entire family is apprehensive. We need to see my father back home and want to return to our lives in freedom.

I miss my father dearly, and I write this letter for him. During Ramadan, my brother-in-law, as a community representative, would come and distribute free fruit and beans for Ramadan. I could eat here in prison, instead of being hungry. As a refugee, the last thing I wanted was another period of hunger.

I try to maintain hope by speaking with my extended family in Turkey and Turkey’s diaspora. To their credit, they are standing by me and believing in my father’s imprisonment. Many parents and siblings in the diaspora believe that my father will be able to come home soon, and I hope that when he does, he will be safe. My family has been missing him greatly, and I don’t know how I’ll manage without him.

In my fight for freedom, I have had a great experience: U.S. President Donald Trump revoked my mother’s visa last week. This, to me, shows what a stronger demonstration of U.S. support for civil society means. I hope that the recently announced U.S. sanctions on Turkey will deter Mr. Erdogan from his repression and that he will now begin to listen to voices other than his. I appeal to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Make your voice heard.

A country that struggles for free speech and religious freedom deserves the support of the world.

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