(London, 31 January, 2014) The trial of human rights lawyer, writer and PEN Turkey member Muharrem Erbey is set to resume on 3 February 2014, after the trial against him and 80 other defendants descended into chaos during a 13 January 2014 hearing. PEN International is reiterating its calls for his immediate and unconditional release along with all others who are imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing their views.
According to reports from the Cihan News Agency, a courtroom protest began when the chief justice presiding over the court cut off the microphone feed of a defendant who had begun his defence by stating, “These courts are doing what the Independence Tribunals did to the Kurds in Kurdistan.” The defence lawyers, defendants and gallery responded to this censure by protesting loudly, leading to the postponement of the hearing first until 16 January and then 3 February 2014.
Erbey has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest in December 2009. He is one of scores of lawyers, politicians, writers, journalists, publishers, trade unionists and academics detained as part of a wide-reaching anti-terror probe into pro-Kurdish intellectuals, political activists and civil society organisations in Turkey.
Speaking to PEN International, Erbey’s lawyer explained that he will have already served the maximum term for the crimes he has been charged with by the end of February 2014. This highlights PEN International’s longstanding concerns with the excessive length of pre-trial detention in Turkey.
“We raised Muharrem Erbey’s case with the President of Turkey in November 2012 when he told us that our free expression concerns cast a shadow over Turkey’s progress and said that he wanted to see them resolved,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
“It is truly shocking that a writer can languish in trial in Turkey for almost as long as the maximum prison term for the crimes of which he has been accused – particularly when the individual concerned should not have been in prison in the first place. This illustrates once again the myriad problems with the administration of justice in Turkey which must be urgently addressed.”
Erbey has worked for many years as a highly respected human rights lawyer and advocate in the southeast of Turkey, compiling reports on disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings in the region, and representing local individuals in provincial, national and international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. In addition to his work as a human rights lawyer and advocate, Erbey is also a published writer, editor and columnist, and has written numerous articles on culture and human rights for a wide range of magazines, newspapers and websites.
PEN International has been campaigning for his release since his arrest in 2009 and throughout his pre-trial detention.
PEN International also calls on the Turkish authorities to fully meet its obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression as laid out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to which it is a state party.
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