PEN Turkey under investigation for ‘insulting the state’

PEN Turkey Board Members 2013

English PEN is concerned that our sister organisation PEN Turkey is facing a preliminary criminal investigation as a result of critical comments about the ongoing prosecution of pianist and composer Fazıl Say

Six members of the PEN Turkey board (President Tarık Günersel, Vice-President Halil İbrahim Özcan, General Secretary Sabri Kuşkonmaz, Treasurer Tülin Dursun, and board members Zeynep Oral and Mario Levi) and poet and critic Nihat Ateş (who uploaded the content to the PEN Turkey website) were called in for questioning today by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office. 

In June 2012, PEN Turkey’s website carried a statement condemning the prosecution of the musician Fazil Say for religious defamation, in which the centre stated that ‘the international community has been put on alert in the face of fascist developments in Turkey’.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, PEN Turkey board members may face charges under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (publicly denigrating Turkish ethnicity, the government of Turkey, its institutions or its military/security forces), which carries a prison sentence of six months to two years. In addition, board members may face charges of ‘attempting to influence the judicial process’ under Article 288 of the Turkish Penal Code. According to reports, the accusation against PEN Turkey was made by a private individual. 

English PEN believes that PEN Turkey was exercising its right to freedom of expression, and that it was making legitimate critical comment about a controversial trial. Article 301 protects the state and its institutions from being criticised by its citizens and restricts the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey. Safeguarding dissent and critical expression is a crucial component of an open society.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN said: ‘We strongly urge the Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to repeal Article 301 and to drop the investigation against PEN Turkey at the earliest opportunity.’

(Photo: Nihat Ates, Tülin Dursun, Mario Levi, Zeynep Oral, Ahmet Erözenci, Sabri Kuskonmaz, Halil İbrahim Özcan outside the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office.)

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