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Free Turkey’s Imprisoned Writers

Thursday 24 March 2016 - 12:01am

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Plea to Prime Minister Davutoğlu from Adonis, Al-Shaykh, Atwood, Coetzee, Jelinek, Knausgaard, Muller, Vargas Llosa and more

24 March 2016 - As Cumhuriyet editors Can Dündar and Erdem Gül are due to start their trial tomorrow which could see them serving life in prison, PEN International has published an open letter to the Turkish Prime Minister, calling for all charges against both journalists to be dropped and demanding an end to the crackdown against free expression in Turkey.  You can read the open letter here.

Signed by more than100 writers, including Nobel laureates, and PEN and Writers Circle members including Adonis, Homero Aridjis, Monica Ali, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Margaret Atwood, Herta Müller, J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Yann Martel, Sofi Oksanen, John Ralston Saul, Elif Shafak, Burhan Sönmez, Colm Tóibín, Mario Vargas Llosa and Per Wästberg, the letter condemns the increasing climate of fear, censorship, and the stifling of critical voices in the country.

‘In recent years, the Turkish authorities have made extraordinary efforts to silence critics and dissent, as documented in PEN’s recent report on free expression in the country. This has had an impact on all areas of Turkish society, from the harsh repression of peaceful protesters in Gezi Park; to the increasing crackdown on freedom of expression online; to the arrest and detention of dozens of writers, journalists and academics,’ the letter reads. It also highlights that in the last two years, half of all freedom of expression related cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights have concerned Turkey.

The letter points to the cases of Dündar and Gül, both arrested on 26 November 2015, and charged with espionage and other national security offences after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint against them in June 2015 over a news story they published the previous month. The news story consisted of video and photographic evidence in Cumhuriyet of arms deliveries by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist groups in Syria. Both journalists are currently facing consecutive life sentences.

On 17 February, the Turkish Constitutional Court, with five judges sitting, referred their cases to its full General Assembly for a ruling by all 17 of its members, underlining the enormous significance of the case. On 25 February the Constitutional Court ruled that both journalists were being held in violation of their human rights. They were freed the next morning. However they are still facing possible life imprisonment.

PEN International has been documenting the declining situation for freedom of expression in Turkey for some years. In a recent report published in December 2015, PEN highlighted the grave threats to free expression in the country, whether through the persecution and jailing of individual journalists, use of mass surveillance, crackdown on social media and websites or the introduction of repressive legislation.

The fact that Can Dündar and Erdem Gül are facing life in prison simply for  fulfilling their responsibilities as journalists demonstrates the sorry state  of freedom of expression in Turkey. Sadly their cases are not unique. There are over 20 other writers languishing behind bars as well as scores of others who are under investigation or on trial simply for peacefully exercising their right to free expression,’ said PEN International President Jennifer Clement.

’We call on the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against Dündar, Gül and all others imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to free expression and to end their crackdown on free speech.’

At the end of 2015, PEN International recorded some 28 writers and journalists either detained or imprisoned in Turkey; well over 100 others remained on trial, most for alleged national security offences.

You can read the open letter here.

For more information please contact Communications & Campaigns Manager Sahar Halaimzai: |m.  +44 7514139606 | t. +44 (0)20 7405 0338 | 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK.