Zehra Doğan is a ethnic Kurdish painter and journalist from Diyarbakır, Turkey. She is best known as the editor of Jinha, a feminist Kurdish news agency reporting news in the Kurdish language with a staff consisting entirely of women. Since February 2016 Doğan has been living and reporting in Nusaybin, a Turkish city located on the Syrian border.
In addition to being an award-winning journalist, Zehra Doğan is a popular painter. Her work ranges from colorful, flowing depictions of traditional Kurdish life to dark, striking political scenes. On July 21, 2016 she was arrested while at a café in Nusaybin.
At a court hearing, multiple witnesses testified that Doğan was a member of an illegal organization, though not one witness knew her by name. An anonymous witness claimed “There was… a short lady with a nose ring… I do not know the individual’s identity; she is probably a journalist.” The prosecution’s lawyers used Doğan’s paintings and social media posts as evidence against her. Doğan testified that all the crimes she is accused of are journalistic activities, for which she is registered with the state and a member of the Union of Journalists of Turkey.
That trial ended with no sentencing, but Zehra remained in prison until being released December 9, 2016. Her trial continued on March 2, 2017, where she was acquitted of the charge of Illegal Organization Membership, but was sentenced to 2 years, 9 months and 22 days for posting a painting to social media.
The painting is of destruction in the Kurdish town of Nusaybin, an artistic rendering of a photo taken by state officials.
“I was given two years and 10 months [jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, they [Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it,” Doğan said in a tweet after the sentencing.
“Art and paintings can never be used in such a way,” expressed Doğan’s lawyer, Asli Pasinli. “This is an attack on art and artistic expression.”