PEN Appeal: Turkey

December 22, 2011

Minister of Justice
Mr. Sadullah Ergin
06669 Kizilay
Ankara
Turkey
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the rising number of journalists and writers in prison and on trial, as well as the increasing level of surveillance in Turkey, which has discouraged freedom of expression.

According to our information, there are currently 30 writers in prison and over 70 more on trial in Turkey. Additionally, another 20 to 25 writers were arrested on December 20, 2011, most under the Anti-Terror Law (ATL). The ATL is applied so broadly that crimes of membership or support of “illegal organizations” encompass a wide spread of commentary ranging from writings on Kurdish issues to allegations of inappropriate links between the police and religious figures. This, accompanied by the escalating level of surveillance, has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Among the detainees in Turkey is well-known political activist and PEN Member Ragip Zarakolu, who has been fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey for over 30 years, publishing books on issues such as minority and human rights. He and Professor Büşra Ersanlı, an expert on constitutional law based in Istanbul’s Marmara University, were both arrested on October 29, 2011. Zarakolu and Ersanli, both of whom have ties to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), were arrested under what is known as the Democratic Society Congress (Koma Civaken Kurdistan - KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009. In the days leading up to Zarakolu’s arrest, Zarakolu had been campaigning for the release of his son, Deniz Zarakolu, who was also arrested three weeks earlier on October 7.

Among others arrested under the KCK operation are members of the BDP, despite the fact that 30 of its representatives took their seats in Turkish parliament on October 1. Muharrem Erbey, a lawyer and writer arrested in December 2009 under the KCK operation, is still being held in pre-trial detention. On December 20, 2011, 20 to 25 more journalists were arrested. They were taken from their homes in various cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Diyarbakir. All were working for various pro-Kurdish newspapers and agencies.

Other high profile writers in prison include Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, both arrested on March 6, 2011, and accused of being members of Ergenekon, a neo-nationalist organization accused of anti-government sentiments. Şener and Şık were researching the alleged links between police involved in the investigation of Ergenekon and the Gülen movement, an Islamic organization that promotes inter-faith dialogue. Şener has written a book based on his research, titled Fetullah Gülen and the Gülen Community in Ergenekon Documents, which is now being used against him.125 Turkish writers showed solidarity by publishing a book by Şık that had been seized and banned.

Others currently detained include Mustafa Balbay, a well-known contributor to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, the publishers and translators of the Turkish edition of William Burrough’s The Soft Machine, and the owners of a publishing house accused of defaming religion by producing a 2010 calendar featuring quotes from secular writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, and James Joyce.

As the year ends, PEN American Center is seriously concerned that 30 writers are in prison, over 70 are on trial, and another 20 to 25 more were arrested just recently in Turkey. We protest the continued detention of the aforementioned, as well as the detention of many other writers and journalists arrested because of their alleged affiliation with Kurdish political parties. We therefore call for their immediate and unconditional release and for an end to all arrests. We urge the Turkish government to honor their commitment to protect freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.
 
Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Respectfully,
                                        
Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Namık Tan
Embassy of Turkey to the United States
2525 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 612-6744

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