Senal Sarihan was once sentenced to 22 years in prison for exercising her right to freedom of expression. As a member of the Executive Committee of the Turkish Teachers Commission, she wrote pro-union articles for the commission’s monthly newspaper. These writings caught the attention of Turkey’s military regime, and in 1971 she was imprisoned and given her lengthy sentence.
In 1974, Turkey’s newly elected government released her. She emerged from prison more determined than ever to advocate for human rights. She decided to study for a law degree, and by 1976, she was defending human rights activists, intellectuals, and union leaders. She also continued writing, and in 1980 she was again arrested and detained, this time for 35 days as a result of “espousing anti-state views” in her articles.
Undeterred, in 1986 she founded the Contemporary Lawyers Association, which lobbied for legal reform in Turkey. She served as the organization’s president and as the editor of its monthly magazine, where she became the most prominent critic of Turkey’s antiterrorism law and its violations of the right to free expression. In 1996, she organized the largest women’s rights rally in Turkey’s history, with 35,000 women marching. She has faced death threats and political oppression, but she marches on for human rights, just as she asked those women to do. “When you look back on your life,” she says, “you should have changed the world somehow.”