Ahead of London Book Fair 2013, at which Turkey is the market focus, English PEN writes to Minister of Culture Ömer Çelik welcoming the opportunities provided by the Fair, but noting with regret the continuing challenges faced by writers and other literary professionals in Turkey.
H.E. Mr Ömer Çelik
Minister of Culture and Tourism
İnönü Bulvarı No: 5
12 April 2013
English PEN is delighted to welcome you to London, along with leading writers and publishers from Turkey, for the Book Fair. We are looking forward to hosting a series of discussions, both at the Book Fair and at other venues in the capital. It is a rare and valuable opportunity to celebrate Turkish literature, introduce visiting authors to a new audience and develop a stronger cultural relationship between writers and publishers in the UK and Turkey.
As a charity that promotes literature and defends the right to freedom of expression, we regret, however, the continuing challenges faced by writers, editors and journalists in Turkey. According to the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee’s most recent case list (July-December 2012) there are currently more cases of concern to PEN in Turkey than in any other country in the world. While we are pleased to note that the 4th Judicial Reform package has gone some way to addressing some of the limitations to free speech in Turkey, we are concerned that existing laws, and their interpretation, still curtail the ability to exercise a fundamental human right.
We would like to draw your attention to the case of celebrated pianist, composer and writer Fazıl Say whose third trial hearing coincides with the opening of the Book Fair on Monday 15 April. Say has been charged with religious defamation in response to a series of messages he posted on Twitter; he faces up to 18 months in prison if found guilty. We believe that the charges against Say violate his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and call for them to be dropped immediately and unconditionally.
We are also concerned about the ongoing investigation of PEN Turkey, English PEN’s sister organisation, whose board members were called in for questioning in January 2013 for ‘insulting the state’ in relation to critical comments about the prosecution of Say. We urge the Turkish authorities to drop this investigation.
We further strongly protest the charges against political scientist Professor Büşra Ersanlı and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık, and the ongoing detention of journalist Zeyneb Kuray. Their cases represent a range of current prosecutions, detentions and convictions that illustrate the extent to which current legislation restricts free speech in Turkey.
We firmly believe that the charges against these writers are in violation of their rights to non-violent freedom of expression and association, principles to which the Turkish government is committed as a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. We therefore respectfully call on the authorities to drop all charges against Say, Ersanlı and Şık, and to release Kuray and the many others currently detained.
We would be delighted to meet with you and discuss these issues while you are in London.
Gillian Slovo, President, English PEN
Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN