Home Page > News Item > TURKEY: Year Closes with 30 Writers in Prison, Over 70 on Trial and 25 new arrests

RAN 65/11 22 December 2011

PEN International is deeply concerned that as this year closes, 30 writers are held in Turkish prisons, more than 70 others are on trial, and that there were 25 new arrests in recent days. This, alongside increasing surveillance, is having a chilling effect on writers and raises concerns for the coming year. PEN calls for a halt to the arrests, and the release of writers and journalists who are detained for the legitimate practice of their right to free expression, a right to which Turkey is committed under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

PEN has on its records 30 cases of writers in prison in Turkey, and over 70 more on trial. On 20 December, a further 20 to 25 journalists were arrested. The most widely used legislation in these cases is the Anti Terror Law (ATL), a law that is applied so broadly that crimes of membership or support of “illegal organisations” encompass a wide spread of commentary, ranging from writings on Kurdish issues to allegations of inappropriate links between the police and religious figures. Over the past year, Turkish writers, publishers and journalists have told PEN that surveillance has risen markedly, and this, accompanied by the escalating arrests, has increased anxiety and is having a chilling effect on free expression.

Among the detainees is the well-known publisher Ragip Zarakolu who has campaigned for free expression for decades. He was arrested on 28 October and is facing trial under the ATL for “membership of an illegal organisation”, reportedly for a speech he made to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and articles he has written. Taken to prison the same day on similar charges is the respected academic and writer Busra Erslani. She is an expert on constitutional law and had been working with the BDP’s Constitutional Commission at the time of her arrest. Zarakolu’s son, Deniz, also an academic and translator, was arrested two weeks earlier for similar reasons. To read more see PEN alert.

Zarakolu and Ersanli were arrested under what is known as the Democratic Society Congress (Koma Civaken Kurdistan – KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009 and which has led to several hundred, some say over 1,000, arrests and trials. The KCK is seen as the civil/political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Among the organisations being linked to the KCK is the BDP despite the fact that 30 of its representatives took their seats in the Turkish parliament on 1 October. Among the early KCK operation arrests was Muharrem Erbey, a lawyer and writer arrested in December 2009 who is still detained, one example of the extremely lengthy pre-trial detentions. On 20 December, there were further arrests under the KCK operation that included around 20 to 25 journalists who were taken from their homes in various cities including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Diyabakir. All are journalists working for various pro-Kurdish newspapers and agencies. It is not clear how many remain detained today, 22 December.

Other high profile writers in prison include Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık arrested on 6 March 2011 for being members of ‘Ergenekon’. Since June 2007 there have been a series of arrests of leading figures in the military, politics and police, as well as writers, academics and journalists. Now numbering over 200, they are accused of membership of a neo-nationalist organisation known as Ergenekon. Its aim is said to be to overthrow the government and it is linked to several assassinations. Şener and Şık are detained for their research into and writings about Ergenekon. Şener’s book, Fetullah Gülen and the Gülen Community in Ergenekon Documents is one of the sources of the charges. The Gülen movement is an Islamic organisation that promotes inter-faith dialogue. It is thought that Şener’s arrest is linked to his research into suggestions that the movement holds undue influence in the Ergenekon investigation. Ahmet Şık has also written on Ergenekon and he too is said to have looked into the alleged affiliation of police to Gülen .

That two writers investigating Ergenekon should find themselves on trial for being members of the group they are researching is absurd, a view shared by 125 Turkish writers who, in November 2011, publicly announced their support for Ahmet Şik by publishing in print his book that was seized from his computer files and banned. The writers had all played a role in editing the book, and are listed as co-editors and proof-readers, willingly making themselves liable for prosecution. Read more here.

Writers are also among those arrested as Ergenekon suspects. One is Mustafa Balbay, a well-known contributor to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, an outspoken opponent of the government and secularist. He has been detained since July 2008 and remains in pre-trial detention three years later. Evidence against him is said to be notes he took during meetings with various figures who themselves were arrested under Ergenekon, and that Balbay was aware of plans to stage a coup, charges he denies.

Zarakolu, Şık, Şener, Erbey and Balbay are all members of PEN Turkey.

Among the 70 and more other cases of writers before the courts being tried under numerous and diverse legislations, are the obscenity trial against the publishers and translator of the Turkish edition of William Burrough’s Soft Machine. Also under way is that against the owners of another publishing house accused of defaming religion for producing a 2010 calendar featuring quotes from secular writers including George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein and James Joyce.

Please send appeals:-

Expressing alarm about the rising numbers of writers and journalists in prison and on trial for the legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression;-
Referring to Turkey’s commitments to Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which guarantee the right to freedom of expression;
Calling for an end to these arrests, the release of all writers and journalists held in prison, and an end to trials that contravene the right to freedom of expression;
Urging that there a review of all legislation that allows for the prosecution of writers and journalists and to bring Turkey in line to its commitments under international human rights standards.

Send appeals to:
Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Ankara
Turkey
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370
Email: sadullahergin@adalet.gov.tr
Also to the Turkish ambassador in your country.

**Please contact the PEN WiPC office in London if sending appeals after 15 February 2012**

For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at PEN International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: sara.whyatt@pen-internationalpen.org