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Sign PEN's petition for greater freedom of expression in Turkey

Monday 31 March 2014 - 5:55pm

Turkey Gezi report

Leading writers from Turkey and around the world have joined PEN, the international association of writers, to call on the Turkish authorities to respect freedom of expression as a universal and fundamental human right, and to create an environment in which all citizens are able to express themselves freely without fear of censorship or punishment.

We are now inviting PEN members and supporters across the globe to add your voices.

We, the signatories named below, are writers from around the world who love, live and breathe words. We are united in our belief that freedom of expression is a universal and fundamental human right. We hereby express our grave concern with regard to “the freedom of words” in Turkey today.

As human beings we connect both within and across borders through words, written and spoken. A free exchange of ideas is essential for democracy, as well as for creativity, empathy and tolerance. As shown in a recent PEN report on last year’s protests, Turkey has a wide range of free expression issues, from criminal defamation to self-censorship within the mainstream media and from police violence against journalists to a narrowing sphere for freedom of expression on the internet.

Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. To this day, translators, editors, publishers, poets and writers face criminal proceedings and even imprisonment for legitimate expression under a variety of legislative fetters, such as the country’s draconian Anti-Terror Law, the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations and the Turkish Penal Code’s articles criminalising defamation (Art.125), religious defamation (Art.216), obscenity (Art.226), insulting the Turkish people, state or its organs (Art.301) and promoting conscientious objection to military service (Art.318).

The blanket ban on Twitter and YouTube comes in the aftermath of a regressive new internet law, and is an unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of speech. Turkey should be proud to be home to Europe’s youngest internet audience with over 36 million internet users, placing it among the most globally connected countries in the Muslim world. By connecting people from a range of backgrounds and making it possible for them to express their thoughts, the internet is a valuable network that supports and strengthens democracy.

Twitter and YouTube are vehicles of expression that give a voice to each and every user, regardless of class, religion, ethnicity or political stature. There are more than 12 million Turkey-based Twitter users, which shows the vibrancy of civil society. Turkey is a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which protect the right to legitimate freedom of expression.

We welcome the administrative court in Ankara’s decision to suspend the ban on Twitter ahead of a full judgment and urge the telecommunications authority to restore access immediately.

Among our signatories there are writers from Turkey and across the world. As fellow human beings sharing the same planet, we care about one another’s problems and we know that we are all interconnected.
Turkey is a country where Western democratic values, secularism and Islamic culture come together. It is not surrounded by enemies. It is not an isolated or inward-looking country. It is part of an international community. Our plea to Turkey’s leaders is not to retreat from democracy and its keystone, freedom of speech; but rather to recognize their obligations under international treaties and to lift the block on Twitter and YouTube with immediate effect. We urge them to remember that this beautiful country will be stronger and happier when, and if, it appreciates pluralism, diversity and the freedom of words.

(Turkish translation available here)

Héctor Abad Faciolince, Boris Akunin, Svetlana Alexievich, Hanan al-Shaykh, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Meltem Arikan, Jirō Asada, Margaret Atwood, Oya Baydar, Marian Botsford Fraser (PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee), Martín Caparrós, Fethiye Çetin, Paulo Coelho, Can Dündar, Kerstin Ekman, Peter Englund (Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy), Álvaro Enrigue, Moris Farhi, Maureen Freely (President of English PEN), Maggie Gee, Kaya Genç, Graeme Gibson, Francisco Goldman, Günter Grass (Nobel laureate), Tarık Günersel (President of Turkish PEN), Josef Haslinger (President of German PEN), Eva Hoffman, Elfriede Jelinek (Nobel laureate), AL Kennedy, Abbas Khider, Karl Ove Knausgård, Hari Kunzru, Valeria Luiselli, Alain Mabanckou, Perihan Mağden, Alberto Manguel, Ángeles Mastretta, Bejan Matur, Murat Menteş, Pankaj Mishra, Blake Morrison, Neel Mukherjee, Sofi Oksanen, Michael Ondaatje, Orhan Pamuk (Nobel laureate), John Ralston Saul (President of PEN International), Sergio Ramírez, Salman Rushdie, Elif Şafak, Eugene Schoulgin (Vice-President, PEN International), Kamila Shamsie, Mikhail Shishkin, Sjón (President of Icelandic PEN), Zadie Smith, Ahdaf Soueif, Hori Takeaki (International Secretary, PEN International), Janne Teller, Ece Temelkuran, Olga Tokarczuk, Tatyana Tolstaya, Jarkko Tontti (International Treasurer, PEN International), Ayfer Tunç, Dubravka Ugresic, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Günter Wallraff, Per Wästberg (President of the Nobel Committee for Literature), Sarah Waters, Hyam Yared (President of PEN Lebanon), Samar Yazbek, Adam Zagajewski