On 24 June 2013, English PEN sent an open letter to Prime Minister Erdogan expressing concern about the violations of human rights that have taken place in Turkey since the protests began in May 2013, with particular reference to the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
Dear Prime Minister
We are writing to you on behalf of English PEN, the founding centre of the international association of writers, to express our concern about the violations of human rights that have taken place in Turkey since the protests began at the end of May, with particular reference to the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
English PEN strongly protests the use of excessive police force against peaceful protesters during the three-week long demonstrations which began in Turkey in response to the proposed demolition of Gezi Park in Taksim, Istanbul. According to the Turkish Medical Association, at least 7,800 people are estimated to have been injured, whilst there have been at least four fatalities. Of particular concern to English PEN is the fact that a number of journalists and writers, including Ahmet Şık, an Honorary Member of our sister centre PEN Turkey, have been wounded as a result of the protests.
We urge the Turkish authorities to investigate all allegations of police violence and to prosecute those responsible where appropriate.
We are also alarmed by reports that a number of protesters remain in detention as a result of their involvement in the protests. There is widespread concern that the majority of these individuals have been arrested or detained in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. We are especially concerned for a number of our fellow journalists and writers who have been arrested.
We call on the authorities to release all those who have been detained in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly immediately and unconditionally.
We are also seriously concerned by reports that prominent writers and journalists are being intimidated and receiving death threats as a result of views they have expressed publicly, either in articles or via social media.
We call on the authorities to investigate these threats and to bring those responsible to justice.
A further cause of concern for English PEN has been the limited coverage of the demonstrations in the mainstream Turkish media. We were also alarmed to learn that four TV stations have been fined for their coverage of recent events, and that the Radio and Television Supreme Council reportedly cited the fact that the broadcasts were ‘harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people’ as the reasoning behind the fines levied. Meanwhile, BBC World Service Director, Peter Horrocks, issued a statement on 14 June announcing that the BBC would be suspending their partnership with NTV in Turkey with immediate effect following the decision not to transmit the BBC programme Dunya Gundemi [World Agenda]. Horrocks stated: ‘Any interference in BBC broadcasting is totally unacceptable and at a time of considerable international concern about the situation in Turkey the BBC’s impartial service to audiences is vital.’
We strongly urge the authorities and media owners to ensure that media outlets are able to report events accurately and without fear of reprisals.
As a result of the limited coverage in the mainstream media, both social media and foreign news outlets have played a crucial role in disseminating information about the ongoing protests. We were therefore discouraged by your comments that ‘social media is the worst menace to society’ and by reports suggesting that Twitter may have been blocked in an attempt to control the protests. Of further concern to English PEN is the fact that a number of social media users have been arrested, including 25 people in Izmir who were accused of using Twitter and social media to spread untrue information and incite people to join the protests. Interior Minister Muammer Güler has now confirmed that the Turkish authorities will be looking to regulate Twitter and other forms of social media.
We urge the authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and the public’s right to be informed when investigating social media users and considering how to regulate the use of social media in Turkey.
We believe that an independent inquiry will be necessary in order to establish the full facts of the conduct of the police and government officials during the protests, and to restore the confidence of the public in the government.
As an organisation that represents writers in the UK and around the world, we have strong ties with writers and journalists in Turkey and are committed to supporting their freedom to enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. As a signatory to the ICCPR & European Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Turkish government is already committed to upholding those rights.
We would welcome your comments on our appeal.
Director, English PEN