We stand with you today in Istanbul
Marian Botsford, Chair of the Writers in Prison committee writes…
Today in Istanbul, our colleagues in Turkish PEN are coming together with other writer groups, journalists, translators and publishers to discuss a strategy for dealing with the interminable freedom of expression crisis in Turkey. On Monday, two PEN members Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, were released after more than a year in prison, but they still face trial for their writings. Numerous other writers, journalists, publishers, including PEN members Ragip Zarakolou and his son, Deniz Zarakolu, and academic Büsra Ersanli, translator Ayse Berktas and others are either in custody, and charged with a range of arbitrary offences, or in custody without charge, all awaiting trials, all trapped in a legal, judicial process that could take years to unfold.
These writers, editors, publishers, translators share the terrible flaws of courage, tenacity and intellectual curiosity. And they’re not alone in prison; scores of journalists and other citizens await charges and trials. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe recently said that “there are 16,000 Turkish cases pending in the European Court of Human Rights, 1,000 of which concern media freedom.” But leading Turkish government members seem indifferent, even contemptuous towards those in prison. Egemen Bagis, Turkish minister for EU Affairs, in a recent BBC interview, flatly denied that journalists are detained for their writings: “being a member of the media does not provide immunity to commit crimes…. If someone is caught while robbing a bank, or killing someone, they are not going to get away just because they happen to be journalists”.
PEN, of course, does not blindly support writers in prison who are accused of criminal offences such as those mentioned by Minister Bagis, but the majority of the scores of journalists, writers and academics arrested in recent months are held under Turkey’s Anti Terror Law, a law that has been widely accused, inside and outside of Turkey as having broad, indeed unclear, definition of what comprises “terrorism”. Many of those detained are held only because of what they have written, or for their support for, mainly, Kurdish groups. The scale of the mass arrests, coupled with the obfuscation and confusion surrounds the legal proceedings, makes recording and verification of who and how many are in jail, and for what reason, a hard task, whether you are inside the country or outside.