Resisting censorship in Turkey

6 – 7.30pm, 30 November 2019
Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA

Freedom of expression in Turkey is rapidly deteriorating. Independent media has been all but wiped out and at least 117 journalists are behind bars, making Turkey the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.

Join us on 30 November to hear stories of writers, artists and activists from Turkey who continue their work despite mounting pressure to self-censor. Award-winning writer Burhan Sönmez, investigative journalist Nurcan Baysal and lawyer Gökhan Ahi will share experiences of being harassed and imprisoned for their work, and discuss how people in Turkey remain determined to speak out in the face of censorship. The event will be moderated by author, journalist, translator and Chair of English PEN Maureen Freely.


Background: Freedom of expression under attacks in Turkey

In just three years, Turkey’s publishing landscape has been all but decimated. More than 300,000 books have been removed from Turkish schools and libraries and destroyed. Several novelists have been investigated for tackling challenging subjects, while some writers have prosecuted for ‘insulting Turkishness’. Artist and journalist Zehra Doğan spent more than 500 days in prison for a painting.

Access to thousands of websites and platforms has been limited after the government triggered a state of emergency decree to authorise removals and blockings of websites without judicial oversight, a severe violation of international standards; Wikipedia has been blocked since April 2017. Meanwhile, the crackdown on free expression continues as thousands of individuals have been prosecuted for their social media posts, following the recent Turkish offensive in Syria.

Presented by ARTICLE 19, English PEN and PEN International. All proceeds from the event will support PEN International’s work defending freedom of expression.BOOK TICKETS


Burhan Sönmez is an award-winning novelist. He is the author of four novels: North (2009), Sins and Innocents (2011), İstanbul İstanbul (2015) and Labyrinth (2018). His novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Born in Turkey, he grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish, then later moved to Istanbul where he worked for a time as a lawyer. He contributes to various newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, la Repubblica, L’Unita, Die Zeit, BirGün, Guernica, and Electric Literature.

Nurcan Baysal is a Kurdish writer and human rights defender from Diyarbakır, Turkey. She is the author of O Gün (That Day), Kürdistan’da Sivil Toplum (Civil Society in Kurdistan, co-author), Ezidiler: 73. Ferman (Ezidis: 73rd Verdict) and O Sesler (Those Voices). She is also a columnist for Ahvalnews. In 2017, Nurcan Baysal was awarded the ‘Brave Women Journalists Award’ presented by the Italian Women Journalists Association and she was named Global Laureate for Human Rights Defenders at Risk by our colleagues at Front Line Defenders in 2018. She is one of English PEN’s current writers in residence.

Gökhan Ahi has been working as a lawyer since 2001. He is an active member of many national and international non-governmental organizations. He is particularly interested in digital rights, IT law and criminal law. He is currently part time teaching IT crimes at Bilgi University. He publishes and speaks at various conferences, televisions and newspapers on freedom of expression, online censorship, cybercrime, digital advertising, personal data law, and electronic commerce.

Maureen Freely is an author, journalist, translator and academic. Her novel Sailing through Byzantium was named as one of the best novels of 2014 in both the TLS and the Sunday Times, and she has translated five books by the Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Chair of English PEN, she has worked closely with the organisation over the past 15 years, with a particular focus on freedom of expression in Turkey: she has taken part in fact-finding missions and attended many trials, as well as speaking out for writers at risk.

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