In memory of John Paxton

Elizabeth Paterson pays tribute to PEN’s former treasurer

John Paxton, former Editor of ‘The Statesman’s Yearbook for many years and author of several respected reference books, has died (peacefully, at home in Somerset) at the age pf 93.  He played a crucial role as Joint Treasurer of English PEN, with Peter Elstob, when the Secretary, David Carver, died unexpectedly in 1974, leaving PEN with an overdraft of £10,000 at The Midland Bank.  The impression John gave of being “a safe pair of hands” was entirely merited.  He introduced the item State of Play to the agendas of the FinanceCommittee, which lent a soothing aura of cricket on the village green to the chaotic condition of PEN’s finances.  He also entered into the life of International PEN., enjoying the opportunity Congresses gave for meeting delegates from other Centres, who were generally impressed by the appearance he gave of being a typical English Club man.

If you would like to send us your memories of John Paxton to share here please email cat@englishpen.org

Writers worldwide call for the release of journalist Ahmet Şık

Leading writers and PEN members including Hari Kunzru, Roberto Saviano, Ali Smith, Sarah Waters and Irvine Welsh are among the hundreds of people to have added their voices to a petition calling for the release of renowned investigative journalist Ahmet Şık.

Following his detention on 29 December 2016, Ahmet Şık was charged and arrested and is now being held in pre-trial detention. Şık is accused of making terrorist propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement (FETÖ), which the government has blamed for the failed coup attempt in July 2016. He has also been charged under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for ‘publicly denigrating the Republic of Turkey, its judiciary, military and security forces’.

Fellow investigative journalists Khadija Ismayilova, Lydia Cacho, Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, and Jerome Starkey – themselves no strangers to being persecuted for their work – are also among those to have added their support. Ismayilova, who knows Şık personally, described him as ‘one of the brightest minds in Turkey’. Other key supporters include Monica Ali, Julian Barnes, Victoria Glendinning, Sir David Hare, Josef Haslinger, Elfriede Jelinek, AL Kennedy, Ian McEwan, Andrew Motion, Neel Mukherjee, Elif Shafak and George Szirtes.

The petition urges the Turkish authorities to release Şık, whom signatories believe to be held on politically motivated charges, immediately and unconditionally and calls for him to be granted full access to his lawyers and his family.

Describing how Şık was ‘initially held in solitary confinement in filthy conditions in Metris Prison…and reportedly denied access to clean drinking water for three days’, supporters are also calling on the authorities to ensure that he is not subject to any ill-treatment while he remains in detention.

The petition continues:

The detention of award-winning investigative journalist Ahmet Şık once again highlights the growing post-coup crackdown in Turkey.

In March 2016, Ahmet Şık launched his report Journalism Under Siege (published by English PEN, Free Word and ARTICLE 19, in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists), detailing the ‘unprecedented crisis’ facing Turkey’s independent media. Since then, and particularly in the wake of the attempted coup, the situation for writers and journalists has deteriorated even further. In the report, Şık named 39 imprisoned journalists: that number more than tripled over the course of 2016 and, at the time of writing, over 150 journalists and writers are now detained in Turkey, including Şık himself.

While recognising the right of the Turkish authorities to bring those responsible for crimes committed during the attempted coup to justice, we call on the Turkish authorities to safeguard freedom of expression, human rights and respect their obligations under international law during the declared state of emergency, and to release Ahmet Şık and all journalists and writers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Read the full petition and add your support

Please take a moment to share the petition with friends and colleagues and on social media – #FreeAhmetŞık

Turkey: Özgür Gündem guest editors’ trial adjourned until March

Caroline Stockford of Wales PEN Cymru reports from Istanbul

The trial of Ahmet Nesin, Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Financı and RSF reporter Erol Önderoğlu took place today at Çağlayan High Criminal Court, İstanbul.

The three acted as guest editors in support of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem in association with which Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were recently released on bail from Bakırköy Women’s Prison.

The courtroom of the 13th High Criminal Court was packed with many observers sitting on the floor.

The three were charged with aiding propaganda of a terrorist organisation for their stints as guest editors of Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda).

The case was adjourned until 21 March so that all of the cases associated with Özgür Gündem, which was closed down by a court order in August 2016, can be tried simultaneously.

There was a great show of international solidarity in the court room with representatives and board members from the International Federation of Journalists, the Secretary General of Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), the IRTC Sweden (International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims), People’s Lawyers Against Torrture, IPPN (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) Germany,  Wales PEN Cymru,  Amnesty International, People’s Lawyers Against Torture, the Turkish Human Rights Association, Human Rights Watch and others.

Speaking after the short trial, Human Rights and anti-torture activist Prof. Dr Şebnem Korur Financı thanked the international organisations present for their support adding that thousands of supportive messages had been received from all over the world.

Financi said:

The international solidarity shows that we are all struggling together. We will continue this struggle defending the primary human right of freedom of speech.  We thank all our friends.  Feel this support and be powerful!

Erol Önderoğlu of Reporters Sans Frontières added:

With this struggle we are defending the rights that the people of Turkey have had abused for the last 20 years.  We will continue in solidarity with our international support and the struggle for democratic values and human rights will never end.

Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), ended the press conference outside the court:

It’s wrong that journalists should ever have to risk going to jail.  We are tired of having to come to this courthouse.  Of all of the countries in the world, Turkey worries us most.

The case will continue on 21 March.

Meanwhile in a nearby courtroom Cumhüriyet newspaper’s Can Dündar and Erdem Gül were on trial again for stories regarding the possible smuggling of arms by the state intelligence authorities, published in the paper in the summer of 2015.

Gül said:

The only evidence in our case is journalism.  The media is on trial.  All journalists should be freed immediately from prisons in Turkey.  The only organisation we are members of is the journalists’ organisation.

He finished by quoting poet Can Yücel:

Ne kadar yalansız yaşarsak o kadar iyi.

However much we are able to live without lies, so much the better.

Reports suggest that the prosecutor is now seeking ten years in prison for both Dündar and Gül. The next hearing is scheduled for 1 March.

English PEN and Reporters Without Borders respond to consultation on press regulation

English PEN and Reporters Without Borders have called for the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 in their response to the UK Government’s consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation, which closes today.

The consultation asks for views on how section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 operates.  This section concerns the costs awarded in libel and privacy cases, and is yet to be ‘commenced’ by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The submission argues that section 40 would pose a serious chill on freedom of expression in the United Kingdom, and recommends its repeal.

Read the submission

Turkey: Release Ahmet Şık

We, the undersigned, call for the immediate release of award-winning investigative journalist and author Ahmet Şık and other writers detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression in Turkey.

Sign the petition

Following his detention on 29 December 2016, renowned journalist Ahmet Şık has now been charged and arrested and is being held in pre-trial detention. Şık is accused of making terrorist propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement (FETÖ), which the government has blamed for the failed coup attempt in July 2016. He has also been charged under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, for ‘publicly denigrating the Republic of Turkey, its judiciary, military and security forces’.

We believe that the charges against Şık are politically motivated and call for his immediate and unconditional release. In the meantime, we urge the authorities to ensure that he be granted full access to his lawyers and his family, and that he is not subject to any ill-treatment while he remains in detention.

Initially held in solitary confinement in filthy conditions in Metris Prison, Ahmet Şık was reportedly denied access to clean drinking water for three days. Following his transfer to high security Silivri Prison on 2 January 2017, he continues to be denied access to all forms of media. On 2 January, Şık’s lawyers appealed the court’s decision to detain him. Two days later, this appeal was rejected. They have now filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court.

The detention of award-winning investigative journalist Ahmet Şık once again highlights the growing post-coup crackdown in Turkey.

In March 2016, Ahmet Şık launched his report Journalism Under Siege (published by English PEN, Free Word and ARTICLE 19, in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists), detailing the ‘unprecedented crisis’ facing Turkey’s independent media. Since then, and particularly in the wake of the attempted coup, the situation for writers and journalists has deteriorated even further. In the report, Şık named 39 imprisoned journalists: that number more than tripled over the course of 2016 and, at the time of writing, over 150 journalists and writers are now detained in Turkey, including Şık himself.

While recognising the right of the Turkish authorities to bring those responsible for crimes committed during the attempted coup to justice, we call on the Turkish authorities to safeguard freedom of expression, human rights and respect their obligations under international law during the declared state of emergency, and to release Ahmet Şık and all journalists and writers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Sign the petition

Please take a moment to share the petition with friends and colleagues and on social media – #FreeAhmetŞık