The widening net of censorship in Turkey is now threatening to snare the Turkish PEN Center, with eight members of the organization’s board of directors now facing a criminal investigation for criticizing the prosecution of acclaimed composer and pianist Fazil Say.
The Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s office launched an investigation today against PEN Turkey President Tarik Günersel, Vice President Halil İbrahim Özcan, General Secretary Sabri Kuşkonmaz, International Relations Secretary Ahmet Erözenci, Treasurer Tülin Dursun, Board Members Zeynep Oral and Mario Levi, and poet and critic Nihat Ateş. The eight posted a statement on PEN Turkey’s web site last June protesting the prosecution of Fazil Say for posting tweets that were allegedly “insulting to religious values.” That statement suggested that such prosecutions, which have become increasingly common over the past two years, constitute a “fascistic” trend in the country.
On December 25, 2012, a police officer visited PEN Turkey’s Istanbul offices and demanded the contact details of the entire board of the center. The eight who were subsequently summoned by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s office could face charges under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prohibits insults to the Turkish Republic, Turkish ethnicity, and Turkish governmental institutions. PEN has long pressed for the abolition of Article 301, which in earlier versions has been used to threaten or prosecute writers including Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak.
PEN Turkey submitted a formal statement to the prosecutor’s office yesterday, and afterward issued a public statement which read, in part,
In the announcement that is the subject of the complaint, we said the following:
“As the Turkey Centre of the international writers association PEN, we strongly condemn and meet with consternation the [news] that our esteemed composer and pianist Fazıl Say has been called up to court. The international community has been put on alert in the face of fascist developments in Turkey.”
In the official statement we submitted [today], we outlined that the above words were an expression of thought and a criticism, that they were not intended as being aimed as an insult. We emphasized that the right to criticize, a constitutional and legal right, was being exercised. As a result, it was requested that a decision not to prosecute would be given.
The actions against PEN Turkey come one month after a 20-member delegation of PEN International visited Turkey to express concern about an alarming rise in prosecutions of writers and journalists in that country in the last two years. While government officials including Turkish President Abdullah Gül acknowledged mounting international concerns over the climate for free expression in Turkey, prosecutions continue and new cases are being opened all the time—most recently against Günersel, who represented PEN Turkey on the PEN delegation, and his fellow board members.
PEN International has posted a statement condemning the investigation of PEN Turkey here.