14 January 2016
RE: Press freedom in Turkey
Dear Prime Minister
As writers, journalists and members of PEN in the UK, we are writing to express our grave concerns about the unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. We ask you to raise this issue with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on his visit to London next week as a matter of urgency.
Over the past five months, intimidation, threats and even physical assaults against journalists, writers and publishers have become the norm. This includes two attacks on the offices of the newspaper Hurriyet, including one supported by a serving Member of the Turkish Parliament; the raid and seizure of Koza Ipek Media, known for being critical of the President, and the detention of three journalists working for Vice News, alongside prosecutions of journalists and further arrests. More Turkish citizens have been criminally prosecuted for ‘insulting the Turkish President’ since President Erdoğan assumed office in 2014 than in the combined tenure of all of his predecessors, dating back to 1923.
We are seriously concerned for the leading journalists Can Dϋndar, editor-in-chief of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gϋl, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, who were arrested on espionage and national security charges on 26 November 2015 and continue to be held in pre-trial detention. The charges against them relate to an article and video published on the Cumhuriyet website on 29 May 2015 reporting that Turkey’s intelligence agency delivered arms to Islamist rebel groups. This is a story of clear public and global interest, and we are appalled that both journalists may face a maximum life sentence for the charge of divulging state secrets, a sentence of 20 years for espionage, and ten years for membership of a terrorist organisation, for a story that the authorities appear to have accepted is true.
It is vital that journalists in Turkey are allowed to perform their essential role in society, informing public debate and opinion without restraint or censorship. Attacks on journalists, writers and publishers diminish the freedom of Turkish society as a whole. The prevailing culture of impunity is, furthermore, depriving journalists and writers of necessary safeguards, exposing them to intimidation and even physical harm.
Prime Minister Davutoğlu is one of the few members of the Turkish government to have spoken in support of press freedom. His words have not, however, been followed by deeds. The Prime Minister’s visit to London is therefore an important opportunity to secure his unequivocal commitment to safeguarding freedom of expression in Turkey.
We hope that you will use this opportunity to urge the Prime Minister to ensure that his government acts in accordance with Turkey’s obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression.
Drew Campbell (President, Scottish PEN)
Menna Elfyn (President, Wales PEN Cymru)
Moris Farhi MBE
Maureen Freely (President, English PEN)