PEN Turkey continues to fight for freedom of speech

The following piece by Emrah Güler first appeared on Hurriyet Daily News on 18 March 2013.

Established in Turkey in 1950 as the Turkish affiliation of the international association of writers, PEN Turkey is coming into the spotlight more and more.

“At present, Turkey is still a wonderful country for tourists, but it is becoming an increasingly difficult place for its citizens. You wouldn’t want to be a writer, journalist, translator, publisher, human rights activist, democrat, thinking person, or anyone who seeks justice in ‘my’ country,” Tarık Günersel wrote recently for Sampsoniaway.org, an online magazine for literature, free speech and social justice.

Günersel is a poet and a playwright. He is also the president of PEN Turkey, one of the busiest members of the worldwide association of writers. Established in London in 1921 as the acronym for Poets, Essayists and Novelists, the oldest human rights organization and the global literary organization now has around 20,000 members in 144 centers in 102 countries. Journalists and historians are now included in the original list that made up the name PEN.

Twenty-eight years ago this week, the late Turkish humorist Aziz Nesin received an honorary membership from PEN UK. Back then, PEN wasn’t as popular (or notorious to some fear mongers) in Turkey. PEN Turkey was originally founded in 1950 with its first president the woman novelist Halide Edip Adıvar. Today, the members of PEN Turkey continue vehemently to fight censorship and condemn free speech violations publicly.

Right now PEN Turkey is fighting another battle on a closer front, with eight members of its board of directors facing a criminal investigation for criticizing the prosecution of Fazıl Say, the composer and pianist of global fame, who is charged with “insulting religious values” through his Twitter account.

The Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s office launched an investigation in January against Günersel, Vice President Halil İbrahim Özcan and six others on the board after an article posted on PEN Turkey’s website last June, in which it was suggested that Say’s prosecution, along with an alarming number of similar ones, are showcasing “fascistic developments” in Turkey. The investigation against the members of PEN Turkey has been made on grounds of the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, prohibiting insults to the Turkish Republic, Turkish ethnicity or Turkish government institutions.

To read the full piece, please visit Hurriyet Daily News.

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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