29 September 2016 – Journalist, PEN Main Case and former chief editor of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, who was arrested along with his colleague, Erdem Gül, on November 26, 2015 today addressed the Assembly of Delegates at the 82nd PEN International Congress in Ourense City, Spain.
Dündar was arrested in connection to the publication of video and photographic evidence in Cumhuriyet of arms deliveries by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist groups in Syria. Dündar and Gül spent 92 days in custody before being released pending trial, on February 26, 2016. In May 2016 Dündar was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison. He is currently out of the country.
This pen I’m holding in my hand looks weak, small and harmless, doesn’t it?
It’s my companion that I carry inside my jacket pocket…
I take it out often and write with it.
The letters that it makes on the clean sheet turn to words before becoming sentences.
Sometimes it blows the whistle on a dirty secret.
Sometimes it tells of war.
And sometimes it voices the misery of a boy crying from afar.
And then, after being printed in a newspaper or on the pages of a book, it makes it possible for the secrets, wars and suffering to be heard across the whole world.
From that point on, all the PENs of the world work to write about the same things, exposing dirty secrets, condemning groundless wars and trying to soothe seemingly incurable wounds with words.
As our PENs grow in numbers, they also grow more powerful and tougher to break.
Those who hide dirty secrets, profit from war, and stand-by as innocent people suffer, don’t like our PENs. They understand that the way to hide secrets, prolong wars and exploit the innocent is to break our PENs and prosecute writers.
That’s why those who hold a PEN can’t escape persecution.They are demonised, censored, threatened, prosecuted, jailed, exiled and assassinated.
My relationship with the PEN grew like this. It became my closest friend from the day I picked it up. It taught me to express myself. It listened to my troubles and wrote them down, it was a companion in my misfortune; penning my secrets and concealing them.
I won my first girlfriend’s heart thanks to it.
I bought my first books with its money.
I was tried, jailed and shot at because of it.
But never once did I give it up… Or betray it.
On the contrary, when I was jailed, I was grateful that I never fulfilled my childhood dreams to become a doctor. Had I become a doctor, or a gardener, or a carpenter, I could have been devastated alone in a cell, without any patients to heal, or plants to grow or wood to hew. Instead, a PEN and some paper was enough to break through the solitary confinement. Through that pen and paper I managed to create new dreams for myself, hold on to life, echo my voice to the world, take myself beyond those thick walls. There, I praised the PEN’s power yet again.
In Turkey, it carries grave consequences to use a PEN, particularly to use it in favor of the people. Our history of literature and press is filled with the names of writers and journalists who have paid a heavy price for their work.
But in all of our history, never have Turkish prisons hosted this many PEN users.
Never has the price to for telling the truth with a PEN, been so grave.
Never has a leader who has said “sometimes a book is more dangerous then a bomb” ruled this country. And today, the mentality that sees the threat of a bomb in a book has turned my country into the largest prison for journalists in the world.
As of today, 130 journalists are in prison.
In the last 3 months, more then 100 media
organisations have been closed by decree. Hundreds of journalists have been forced into unemployment because of it.
For the first time in Turkey’s recent history, academics in universities asking for peace have been demonised and prosecuted, books have been burned.
What’s even worse is the contagious effect this assault against the freedom of the press has created. The sight of broken PENs has also broken the courage of others; weakened and often destroyed them.
We are in the age of silence. It’s a deafening silence. A shameful one.
A silence that serves as applause for the current government, for suppression…
Unfortunately, it is also one that ties a knot to the eyes and ears of many Western governments who fear an influx of refugees.
Whilst trying to save our fellow friends in jail, we are also trying to break this “cycle of silence” and to free peoples PENs.
What’s sad is that in this fight for free expression, we face not only the government and those who turn a blind eye to it, but also the PENs it has rented to act as their mouthpieces.
On the other hand, I must say one thing about a pen – no matter how much it gets broken, consumed, or destroyed it possesses the resilience to write under any circumstances…
One of the great Turkish writers Çetin Altan, considered writing sacred. Which is why he continued to write for his newspaper the day his father passed away.
Perhaps because Çetin Altan carried the pain of this for many years, he advised his son, also writer like himself not write on the day he died.
When he died, his son, Ahmet Altan, waited a few days before writing a farewell to his father.
He described how his father would go to court instead of the newspaper everyday. Then he wrote about how the police raided their house one day, detained his father, and how he didn’t get to see him until much later, behind a wire cell.
Last week, the police raided Çetin Altan’s son’s home, took him to court and placed him inside a wired cell too. His daughter waited this time, to see her father through the wires.
She too is another member of the PEN family, and knows all too well that one day it will be her turn. It seems, then, that this PEN is a symbol of doom that is passed from generation to generation.
We here as writers, our carrying our criminal tool in our pockets, they can be our death sentence, and our gallows.
We dig our own graves with it.
The gratifying part is that we can only find those that try to destroy PENs in the wasteland of history.
Yet we crown those who write the truth.
We read them, applaud them, shower them with awards and memorize them.
A PEN rewards those who don’t betray it.
It writes them into the finest pages of history.
I bring you dear greetings from my journalist and writer friends who have been jailed because of what they have written, said and stood for.
They are grateful for your solidarity and cooperation.
There are lots of ways that you can make them happy whilst making those that jailed them regret it.You could write to them.Declare one of them an honorary PEN member, voice and tend to their troubles, or to those of their families. You could attend their trials and witness their hearings. You could translate their articles, their books, their poems, and share them widely.
You could follow up the investigations they have been forced to drop, and publish them in other newspapers. You could cite their novels on social media, spread, and contribute to the value of their voices across the world.
You could send them a pen as a gift, symbolizing that you sign your name under their prosecuted texts. This way you can assert once more that freedom of expression cannot be criminalized. Offering solidarity as a fellow conspirator in the “crime” they have committed.
With a drive for active solidarity, you can prove PEN’s global might once more.
As a writer who knows PEN’s strength, who respects it and who has both paid the price for it and received it’s rewards, I would like to thank you on my own behalf too.
For supporting me in my darkest days, admitting me into this big family of writers, and for giving me the opportunity to address you in your congress…
May the ink of your pen never dry.
Writers from across the globe gather in the city of Ourense, Galicia for the 82nd PEN Congress
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