Home Page > News Item > Turkey: PEN International’s freedom of expression concerns after attempted coup


1 August 2016 – PEN International Update

See here for our current list of journalists and writers detained, charged, or issued with detention warrants in the aftermath of the coup.

See here for our current list of media organisations shut down by decree in the aftermath of the coup.

29 July 2016 – PEN International Update

The Turkish authorities must uphold freedom of expression, human rights and the rule of law during the state of emergency which was imposed in the wake of the attempted coup of 15 July said PEN International today.

On 20 July, President Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency and derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for the duration – allowing him to bypass parliament when creating new laws or restricting freedoms and rights. At the time he also refused to rule out the use of the death penalty.

PEN is deeply concerned that alongside the legitimate investigations and detentions related to criminal conduct during the attempted coup, the authorities are using the state of emergency to further silence any and all critical voices in the country.  As of 28 July, arrest warrants have been issued for 42 journalists (a full list is available here) in addition to 47 former employees of Zaman newspaper. Three news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio stations, 45 papers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers have been ordered shut.

“No one denies that the Turkish government has the right to investigate the coup plotters but this disproportionate crackdown on the media in response to the attempted coup is crushing free expression, the cornerstone of democracy, at a time when it is needed more than ever,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

“No political event, no government crisis and no state of emergency should infringe on fundamental rights. The level of repression in the wake of the attempted coup in Turkey is deeply worrying. Our collective humanity suffers every time a writer or journalist is silenced,” said Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International.

25 July 2016 – PEN International Update

The threat to free expression in Turkey continues to escalate in the aftermath of the coup, PEN International has said today.

Arrest warrants have been issued for 42 journalists, in what would appear to be an attempt to silence any criticism of the government. These warrants have coincided with the government’s decision to extend the legal detention period from 4 to 30 days, made even more worrying by evidence alleged by Amnesty International today that detainees are facing torture, beatings, and rape.

‘The news from Turkey continues to pose grave concern for the safety of anyone who speaks out against the government. It is our collective global responsibility not to remain silent on this issue. We urgently call on President Erdogan and his government to safeguard free expression, the freedom of the press, and the human rights of all those held in detention,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International.

PEN International will continue to update this statement as developments continue.

19 July 2016 – There are disturbing signs of an intensified crackdown on freedom of expression, including online freedom, as well as attacks on journalists by non-state actors in Turkey, following the attempted military coup on 15 July 2016, PEN International, PEN America, English PEN, PEN Turkey, PEN Germany, Swedish PEN, and Danish PEN said in a statement today.

Since the coup attempt, which the government has blamed on the followers of the Gulen movement¹ some 20 websites suspected of “endangering national security or public order” including those of six news outlets & two TV channels have been blocked from access by the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) at the request of the prime minister’s office.

‘Once again, the Turkish authorities are trying to stifle the access of individuals in Turkey to information. It is the height of irony that the government is resorting to blocking access to information given that President Erdogan relied on the Internet to disseminate his message to Turkish citizens and to mobilise his supporters and others who wanted to defend Turkish democracy during the coup,’ said Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International

‘Such measures should only be considered as a last resort, and with judicial oversight. Given Turkey’s record on free expression, and the mass arrests, the immediate future looks grim.

At least one journalist – Arzu Yıldız from haberdar.com – is facing an arrest warrant. Speaking today, Yıldız said:

‘I found out today that four police officers arrived at my apartment at 05.20 with an arrest warrant. I hope it has nothing to do with the coup attempt … I have been critical on a numerous issues from the corruption scandals to the reigniting of the Kurdish insurgency. But are these really crimes? I have no intention to escape as I have nothing to fear. I will pay a visit to the prosecutor and testify. I leave the decision for my arrest and its timing up to your judgment!’

There are also worrying signs that the authorities are using the coup to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

“Two of the 12 Constitutional Court judges, which is perceived as one of the country’s last independent institutions, are among more than 2,700 judicial officials arrested since Saturday – making up around one fifth of the total law officals in the whole country” remarked Salil Tripathi, “Given President Erdoğan’s previous harsh criticism of the court on numerous occasions, the most recent concerning the court’s decision to release Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, we are concerned that old scores are being settled and a judiciary more compliant to Erdoğan’s wishes is being put in place.’

PEN International, PEN America, English PEN, PEN Turkey, PEN Germany, Swedish PEN, and Danish PEN urged the Turkish authorities to drop any investigation against Yıldız and any other writer in connection with the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and to uphold Turkey’s obligation to safeguard freedom of expression and the rule of law in the wake of the coup attempt.

[1] Also known as Hizmet or Cemaat in Turkey, this is a religious and social movement led by US-based Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen. It runs schools and educational establishments in Turkey and other countries, and is widely believed to have supporters in state institutions such as the judiciary and police. Originally allied to the AKP against the military and PKK, recent years have seen the two split, with a resultant crackdown on Gülenist sympathisers. It is often referred to as the ‘parallel state’ by the current government.