To our friends and colleagues in Turkey,
In recent months we have witnessed a dramatic crackdown on free expression in your country. We have watched the authorities imprison PEN members, writers, journalists, civil servants, teachers, and thousands of others. Many of these were not arrests related to the coup attempt, but of peaceful voices critical of the government. In the wake of the breakdown of the peace negotiations, Turkey’s Kurdish population has borne the brunt of wide-scale attacks on civilians and restrictions on the use of their language in the media.
Some 150 writers and journalists are languishing behind bars. 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.
Today Turkey is the largest jailer of journalists in the world.
We will not stand by silently. We offered resistance and trenchant criticism when Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were imprisoned. They are happily now free, although they endured several months behind bars and unsubstantiated criminal proceedings against them are ongoing. Appallingly, on the day of their release, award-winning investigative journalist and English PEN’s former writer-in-residence Ahmet Şık was arrested at his home in Istanbul. He remains in prison today.
Ahmet Şık joins a long list of writers in prison in Turkey: these include Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, editor of its books supplement Turhan Günay, and columnist and International Press Institute (IPI) board member Kadri Gürsel, all held since 31 October. Novelist Ahmet Altan has been held on alleged terror charges since 23 September 2016. More recently, three journalists, Mahir Kanaat from BirGün daily, Ömer Çelik and Tunca Öğreten, managing editors of DİHA news agency and online news portal Diken respectively, were arrested on 18 January 2017 with charges of membership to three different terrorist organisations after their initial detention on 25 November 2016.
We are writing to you to let you know that you are not alone. We are writing to tell you that we will not stand idly by in your time of need. We will not be silent while your human rights are violated. We will raise our global voice against any effort to silence yours.
PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members and supporters pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world. A climate of free expression where the free exchange of ideas is facilitated fosters mutual understanding, transparency and accountability and ultimately enhances national security. Turkey must uphold its obligations to protect free expression and other human rights and the writers of Turkey must be able to speak, to criticise, to protest, without fear of reprisals. Our word, our pens, our voices in your support is our continued pledge to you.
Abraham Zere, PEN Eritrea
Andrew Solomon, PEN America
Berivan Dosky, Kurdish PEN
Burhan Sönmez, PEN International
Carles Torner, PEN International
Cecilia Balcazar De Bucher
Danie Marais, PEN Afrikaans
Danson Sylvester Kahyana, PEN Uganda
Elfriede Jelinek, Nobel Laureate
Elif Shafak, PEN Writers Circle
Elisabeth Olin, PEN Sweden
Eugene Schoulgin, PEN International Vice-President
Eva Bonnier, Publisher
Evgeny Popov, PEN Russia
Frankie Asare-Donkoh, PEN Ghana
Grace Mutandwa, PEN Zimbabwe
Hanan Al Shaykh, PEN Writers Circle
Ian Rankin, PEN Writers Circle
Iman Humaydan, PEN Lebanon
Jackie Dennis, PEN New Zealand
Jean Jauniaux, PEN Belgium
Jennifer Clement, PEN International
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, PEN International
JM Coetzee, Nobel Laureate
John Ralston Saul, PEN Writers Circle
Josef Haslinger Presdient, German PEN
Kätlin Kaldmaa President, PEN Estonia
Lucina Kathmann, PEN International
Luis Miguel Aguilar
Magali Tercero, PEN Mexico
Margaret Atwood, PEN Writers Circle
Margie Orford President, PEN South Africa
Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate
Maureen Freely, English PEN
Menna Elfyn, PEN Wales Cymru
Myo Myint Nyein, PEN Myanmar
Natalie Arien, PEN Flanders
Per Øhrgaard, Danish PEN
Per Watsberg, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature
Ronald Bluden, Publisher
Salman Rushdie, PEN Writers Circle
Sirpa Kähkönen President, Finnish PEN
Sjón, Icelandic PEN
Sofi Oksanen, PEN Writers Circle
Syeda Aireen Jaman, PEN Bangladesh
Tade Ipadeola, PEN Nigeria
Teresa Cadete, Portuguese PEN
Thomas Rothschild, German PEN
Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, Basque PEN
Vida Ognjenović, PEN Serbia
William Nygaard, Norwegian PEN
Yann Martel, PEN Writers Circle
The above letter was published on 27 January to mark the end of PEN International’s high-level mission to assess the situation for freedom of expression.
English PEN and PEN International have also sent an open letter to Theresa May urging the Prime Minister to raise our concerns during her meeting with President Erdoğan in Turkey on 28 January.
- Share this letter with friends and on social media with the hashtags #OurColleaguesAreNotAlone #Turkey.
- Join PEN in urging Theresa May to raise our concerns with President Erdoğan – send an email via the Prime Minister’s website.
- Sign and share the petition for the release of our former writer-in-residence Ahmet Şık and other colleagues imprisoned in Turkey. #FreeAhmetŞık
- Make a donation to help us continue our work in support of colleagues in Turkey.