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Freedom of expression, civil and political rights


A member of the Union of Education Professionals, a branch of the National Confederation of Civil Servants' Unions, she was dismissed in 2017 because of her political views. As part of the Turkish government's policy of repression of opposition voices, she is also denied the right to travel, work and be elected. In protest, she and her colleagues organised several public actions. Detained and prosecuted, she did not stop her activism. A member of the Human Rights Association since 2016, she also works within the Commission against Racism and Discrimination.

"The Marianne initiative was a unique and important opportunity for me, because in Turkey we don't always have the chance to criticize or express our opinions."



"In Turkey, thinking differently has become sufficient grounds for imprisonment."


Interview with Nuray Şimşek - March 20, 2024

Could you please introduce yourself?

I'm Nuray Şimşek, a philosophy teacher from Turkey. I am a human rights defender and I have been living in France since the beginning of my participation in the Marianne Initiative.

Can you describe your commitment as Human Rights Defender?

I've been fighting for students' rights since I was a university student, and continued this in the professional world for workers' rights as a nurse and then a teacher. In 2017, I was dismissed because of my political views and my investment in the Education Professionals' Union. The dismissal was justified by the fact that I was a dangerous person for the state, so I understood that it was because I was working in favor of human rights and reporting abuses. Following this, I concentrated on my work with the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association, of which I am a member and activist. I have continued to fight for refugees, workers, LGBTQ+ people and prisoners. Within this association, I also worked on the anti-racism and anti-discrimination commission. So I'm at once a victim, a witness and someone who fights for human rights.

Why did you decide to get involved in human rights?

In Turkey, oppression exists in every aspect: arbitrary detentions and arrests, ill-treatment and torture in prison, racism, discrimination, pressure on journalists and political dissidents, and lack of freedom of thought and expression. It was impossible for me not to get involved in the field of human rights. I actively participated in demonstrations, activities and events, but that wasn't enough and I wanted to make my voice heard by the international community. The aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt helped motivate my commitment, as thousands of people were suddenly dismissed, declared terrorists and arbitrarily arrested. In addition, many human rights activists, journalists and political opponents are currently in prison.

How did the Marianne Initiative help you make your project a reality?

The Marianne Initiative program helped me a lot, especially in terms of being heard internationally. For the first time in my life, I was able to say what was going on in my country, and for the first time, I felt that someone could hear me. It was as if my whole life's commitment made sense. It was no longer like crying out to the world from Turkey.

What activities were most useful to you during the program?

As part of the Marianne Initiative, I was able to meet and exchange views with diplomats, journalists, politicians and the other prizewinners. The training courses were enriching, particularly those on negotiation, leadership and cybersecurity. I learned how to set up a fundraising campaign. For me, the most memorable visit was to the European Court of Human Rights, a symbol of fair justice in my eyes. In Turkey, a judicial system exists in theory, but is not trustworthy in practice.

What did you do at the end of the program?

I stayed in France because I married a Frenchman.

I'm currently developing an activist project with two Initiative colleagues, Noura and Tatsiana. Indeed, before the program, we were working in similar fields. When I worked for the Human Rights Association in Istanbul, I reported on human rights violations in Turkish prisons, based on prisoners' letters sent from prison. In addition, many of my relatives have been imprisoned and I myself have been detained on several occasions. Tatsiana fights for her sister, and Noura lost her husband in prison. Our stories are similar.

This is what led us to found our association in France, aimed at defending the rights of political prisoners, because we are stronger together. It's called "Voix des prisonniers", and it was born out of the Marianne Initiative program. We have now registered our association and are finalizing the last administrative hurdles. I hope we will succeed in helping the prisoners.

Would you like to add anything?

Yes, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there's no point talking if no one can hear you. In France, I was listened to, so my commitment made sense. I'd like to thank everyone who made the Marianne Initiative possible. It was essential for this program to exist. Every year, new human rights defenders join the program, exchanging views on their careers and sharing their experiences of life in their own countries. Solidarity is the watchword of this Initiative.

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