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Journalists in exile to share stories of arrest, torture at Newmarket event

Syrian writer and journalist Abdulrahman Matar, who now calls Newmarket home, will be joined by fellow exiled journalists for a presentation of their book, The Uncaged Voice - Stories by Writers in Exile, on June 18

Exposing the truth came at a cost for 15 international journalists who have detailed their harrowing accounts of arrest and torture in an anthology of stories that will be presented at a Newmarket event June 18.

Syrian writer and journalist Abdulrahman Matar, who now calls Newmarket home, will present their book, The Uncaged Voice - Stories by Writers in Exile, with editor and novelist Keith Ross Leckie at Old Town Hall on June 18 at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

“I have been thinking about the need to introduce ourselves, as writers in exile, to the Canadian community, to have them get to know our stories,” said Matar.

Matar and Leckie will be joined by Turkish journalist Arzu Yildiz, Colombian writer Pedro A. Restrepo, and Ethiopian journalist Gezahegn Mekonnen Demissie. They all fled their home countries over fear of retribution and now live in Canada as refugees.

“We, the authors of this book, are all victims of the suppression of freedoms, victims of torture, imprisonment, and detention,” said Matar. “We are the survivors among the teeth of loose criminals. What writers and journalists are exposed to around the world is heinous because it targets freedom of expression, targets the lives of civil activists, and because it is a crime against humanity.”

Matar has devoted his life to issues of rights, freedoms, civil society, culture and literature. Consequently, he has been arrested five times for exercising his freedom of expression and spent nearly 10 years in prison in his homeland. He has written five books: Blood is not Red, Rain Leaves, The Evening Rose, Mediterranean Studies, and Wild Mirage. The books detail his experiences in political imprisonment, torture, deprivation, abuse and oppression.

“It was a very harsh experience,” said Matar. “The beautiful moments in my life, the lives of my family and friends, have become impossible for me to remember.”

The title of The Uncaged Voice captures the idea of freedom of expression by those who had been silenced, he said.

“Syria is a wonderful, beautiful and great country, but the dictatorship for half a century has destroyed human beings before anything else,” said Matar. “A regime that burns cities and villages, and the number of prisons in it is more than the number of universities.”

Yildiz is an investigative journalist, senior reporter, editor, public speaker and author of four books. She built a career at the liberal, democratic daily Taraf newspaper, where she reported on human rights issues, corruption, and illegal gun trafficking. When she arrived in Canada, she met other reporters who were also persecuted for reporting on crimes and border control, and they were all inspired to write the book.

"I take every step for refugees who are in despair anywhere in the world, and I tell them, 'We must move forward,’” said Yildiz.

Yildiz was sent to jail for reporting on the trial of state prosecutors. She spent five months hiding after a government crackdown on press freedoms before fleeing to Canada. She misses Turkey but loves Canada because of its peace and freedom. She has since been reunited with her children, who live with her now.

“You lose your childhood memories and loved ones,” said Yildiz. “It was hard for the first time, but now I have friends and people around me. I feel home is where you live. We all created a circle around us. “

Yildiz was the recipient of the 2021 PEN Canada-Humber College Writers-in-Exile Scholarship. She is featured in Canadian filmmaker James Cullingham's documentary The Cost of Freedom, which was released in fall 2021. She has also led research for New Canadian Media into the social and economic situation of refugee journalists living in Canada.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event. It will also feature the artwork of Mwafaq Katt, a prominent Syrian Canadian artist recognized for his contributions to political cartooning, animation filmmaking and painting.

Matar felt the need to write and talk about their experiences to support freedom of expression and those still in detention.

“We did not carry weapons, and we did not burn or destroy anything,” said Matar. “We were just writing, and we wanted to write and speak freely.”