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Turkey: critical test for freedom of expression

Thursday 22 June 2017 - 1:00am


22 June 2017 - This month’s trials of journalists and writers once again put the spotlight on the dire situation of freedom of expression in Turkey, PEN International said today.

The tumultuous month saw Evrensel daily reporter Cemil Uğur receive a 15-month suspended prison sentence on 12 June on terror propaganda charges for his social media posts. Two days later, Enis Berberoğlu, a journalist for over 30 years and an MP for the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), was sentenced to 25 years in prison for ‘leaking state secrets’ after being accused of providing Cumhuriyet daily with a video showing Turkey’s intelligence agency trafficking arms into Syria. That same day, news editor and reporter Nedim Türfent appeared in court after spending more than a year in solitary confinement. A dozen witnesses claimed to have been tortured into signing incriminatory statements against him.  His next hearing will take place on 9 August. The first trial of journalists accused of taking part in last year’s failed coup attempt opened on 19 June, with prominent novelists and political commentators Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak facing possible life sentences in a case that PEN International considers politically motivated.

The myriad of trials currently taking place in Turkey is a crucial test for freedom of expression in the country,” said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘We urge the authorities to drop all charges against the accused unless they can provide concrete evidence of internationally recognized crime. Those who, for months, have been languishing behind bars in pre-trial detention must be released immediately’.

The trial of renowned writers Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay resumed today. They were jailed last year for taking part in a campaign of solidarity with Özgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish opposition daily, and still face several years in prison for their support for free expression. The court lifted their travel ban, in a welcome step, but moved their next hearing to 31 October 2017.

In a report released in June 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression deemed the situation for freedom of expression in Turkey to be ‘in grave crisis’. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the case of Taner Kılıç, Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, who has been detained since 6 June on charges of membership of the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”. PEN International expresses its deep concerns at the arrest of a leading freedom of expression figure and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

The upcoming weeks will prove just as critical, with 12 journalists and media workers from Cumhuriyet expected to stand trial on 24 July. Most have been held in pre-trial detention since October 2016. The next hearing of Cumhuriyet web editor Oğuz Güven, who was released on 14 June pending trial, has been scheduled for 14 September.

Charges brought against journalists and writers in Turkey are designed to harass, intimidate and ultimately silence independent voices’ said Salil Tripathi. ‘The Turkish authorities must drop all these bewildering charges against those jailed simply for speaking out’.

Additional information

For more information about the state of free expression in Turkey, please see PEN International’s joint written statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2017 and its joint oral statement submitted in June 2017.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: