UK must raise free expression concerns with President Erdoğan

English PEN and PEN International urge Theresa May to speak out in support of imprisoned writers and journalists in Turkey

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In an open letter published today, English PEN and PEN International are calling on Theresa May to raise ‘serious concerns about the grave violations being committed in the context of the state of emergency in Turkey’ during her meeting this week with President Erdoğan in Turkey.

Concerns around the repression of freedom of expression and the persecution of writers and journalists in Turkey have escalated in the wake of the attempted coup in July 2016, and particularly under the ongoing state of emergency. In the six months since the coup, there has been an unprecedented wave of arrests and detentions of fellow journalists and writers: there are now more than 150 writers and journalists in prison in Turkey, making it the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.

English PEN’s former writer-in-residence Ahmet Şık is among the writers currently detained. Following his arrest in December 2016, PEN launched a petition calling for the release of Şık and others unlawfully in detention, signed by leading writers from around the world including Hari Kunzru, Roberto Saviano, Ali Smith, Sarah Waters and Irvine Welsh and over 1000 others.

In the letter, PEN acknowledges the government’s ‘right and responsibility to bring those responsible for the coup attempt to account, and recognise[s] that the imposition of a state of emergency may have been a legitimate response initially’. However, the letter goes on to highlight grave concerns about the ways in which the state of emergency is now being used to justify serious human rights violations and to silence dissent:

The government is now abusing the state of emergency to restrict the right to freedom of expression and media freedom severely, and to stifle criticism and limit the diversity of views, perspectives and opinions available in the public sphere within Turkey. Restrictions on the media are not a new phenomenon in Turkey, but the breadth and scope of the crackdown on media freedom has intensified dramatically in response to the failed coup, with measures of an unprecedented scale now being justified on the grounds of ensuring stability.

The concerns highlighted in the letter have been echoed by fellow NGOs, while the ongoing repression of critical voices has been condemned by the United Nations and Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member state. Stewart McDonald MP, who will be hosting a private meeting in Parliament with leading Turkish journalist Can Dϋndar next week, has also written to the Prime Minister requesting further information on the issues she plans to raise during her trip.

A delegation from PEN International is currently visiting Turkey on a mission to assess the current situation and raise our concerns about the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression.

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