English PEN joins PEN International in expressing concern at the arrest and detention of Kurdish Iranian writer and journalist Sajjad Jahan Fard, and that of his friend Hassan Baladeh, who were charged on 25 January 2017 with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ after taking pictures during a tourist visit to the city of Mardin, in the predominantly Kurdish South-east of Turkey. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
PEN fears that Sajjad Jahan Fard and Hassan Baladeh are being targeted for their links with Kurdish intellectuals, academics and publishing houses and calls on the Turkish authorities to release them immediately.
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Send letters of appeal to the Turkish authorities:
- Calling on them to release Sajjad Jahan Fard and Hassan Baladeh immediately;
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- Calling on them not to use the state of emergency to crack down on peaceful dissent, civil society, media and education.
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Sajjad Jahan Fard and Hassan Baladeh were arrested on 3 January 2017 during a tourist visit to the city of Mardin, in South-eastern Turkey. The police accused them of taking pictures on behalf of a group with alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with the aim of planning terrorist activities. According to their lawyer, Sajjad Jahan Fard and Hassan Baladeh were refused access to their families and legal counsel for four days. They were brought before the Prosecutor on 25 January 2017, who charged them with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 314 (2) of the Penal Code, charges that they vehemently deny. A motion calling for their release pending trial was rejected and is currently being appealed by their lawyer. They remain in pre-trial detention in Mardin prison. A date for their hearing has yet to be set.
Sajjad Jahan Fard, aged 32, is a writer from Iran and a member of the Kurdish PEN Centre. He is the author of several books about Kurdish culture, language and folklore, including The Myths of the Land of Medes, A life in Silence and Names-letters of Manisht. He also works as editor of the Kurdish website Jiyar Kurd.
Freedom of expression in Turkey has deteriorated sharply since the failed coup of 15 July 2016. Over 170 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree following the imposition of a state of emergency, a period that has been characterised by the heavy-handed use of extraordinary powers while normal constitutional protections are suspended. As of 18 January 2017, according to PEN International’s records, at least 151 writers and journalists had been arrested and detained without charge or were awaiting trial in Turkey.
There has also been a massive crackdown on Turkey’s Kurdish population, with arrests of Kurdish journalists and closures of pro-Kurdish media outlets, the forced replacement of elected local officials and arrests of MPs from the pro-Kurdish HDP party. Thousands of Kurdish teachers, journalists and academics were also suspended from their jobs as part of a nation-wide purge.
While recognising the right of the Turkish authorities to bring to justice those responsible for crimes during the attempted coup, PEN International calls on the Turkish authorities to safeguard freedom of expression, human rights and respect their obligations under international law during the declared state of emergency and to release all journalists and writers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. The organisation further calls for an end of the crackdown in the Kurdish regions and for a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict.
In January 2017, a delegation of PEN writers visited Turkey to assess the situation of freedom of expression and express solidarity with fellow writers protesting the heavy-handed clampdown in the country.