Turkey: academics on hunger strike detained

PEN is deeply concerned at the detention of academics Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça. The academics were detained on 22 May as they reached the 75th day of their hunger strike. PEN calls for their immediate release.

The pair have been on hunger strike in Ankara since 8 March 2017, asking for their jobs to be reinstated.  They have been detained and released 17 times, totaling 34 days, since the start of their sit-in in December 2016 in front of Ankara’s famous Human Rights Memorial. They were recently diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff sundrome (WKS) by medical professionals.

Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen are currently being held in the General Directorate of Security in Ankara after being arrested today in dawn raids by anti-terror police who stormed into their house. According to Gülmen and Özakça’s lawyer, the arrest warrant listed the reasons for their detention as ‘possibility that the protest can turn into a death fast’ and ‘that it could spark protests in the likes of Gezi Park protests’.[1] Özakça’s wife and mother are reportedly on hunger strike in protest at their detentions.

Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International, said:

By detaining Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen, the Turkish authorities show once again their utter contempt for freedom of expression and human rights. Özakça and Gülmen must be released immediately. Their appeal, and that of the tens of thousands of civil servants who have been arbitrarily dismissed since the coup attempt, must be examined promptly, independently and impartially.

Gülmen and Özakça are two of 4,811 academics and 40,000 teachers who were dismissed by emergency decree following the coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Under the state of emergency, those dismissed from their positions are subjected to a lifetime ban from seeking employment as civil servants and face a range of social and professional hurdles. Their passports, and those of some of their spouses, have been cancelled, as has their health insurance. They can only challenge the dismissal decision through the Commission to Investigate State of Emergency Affairs, which has yet to be assembled while concerns have been raised over its functionality and independence.

Turkey’s Ministry of Interior has refused to comment on the case. The only government official to do so, Nurettin Yaşar of the governing Justice and Development Party and member of the parliamentary commission on human rights, said that ‘hunger strike is not fit for our religion’. He urged Gülmen and Özakça ‘to trust the state and surrender to their fate’.

PEN calls on the Turkish authorities to release Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça immediately and to end the arbitrary dismissals of civil servants. Those dismissed from their jobs should have immediate access to an independent and effective appeals mechanism. Where no legitimate grounds are found for their dismissals, they have the right to be reinstated in their positions and the right to legal remedies.

The organisation further calls on the Turkish authorities to end arbitrary arrests and their far-reaching crackdown on freedom of expression, end the state of emergency for three more months and uphold the independence of the judiciary.

For more information about Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça and the extent of the post-coup crackdown please see PEN International’s statement Turkey: academics on hunger strike as effects of post-coup decrees deepen, available here.

[1] The Gezi Park protests took place in 2013 after a small group of protesters opposed to its destruction were brutally dispersed by police. Local protests quickly spread and turned into the biggest civil protest in Turkey’s history, with almost 3 million people taking the streets across 81 cities. Nine people lost their lives and thousands were injured, as police repeatedly used unnecessary and abusive force. See PEN International’s report here.

Mexico: murder of journalists a terrible blow to freedom of expression and information

The murder of two Mexican journalists in separate incidents on 15 May 2017 represents a terrible blow to freedom of expression and information in the country.

On 15 May 2017, Mexico suffered the dual blow of losing Javier Valdez Cárdenas – co-founder and reporter for the local weekly newspaper RíoDoce and correspondent for La Jornada – and Jonathan Rodríguez Córdova – journalist with the family-run weekly El Costeño.

Jennifer Clement, PEN International President, said:

Seven journalists murdered in five months in seven different states sends a clear message to all journalists and critical voices in Mexico – nowhere is safe. It is high time that the Mexican authorities send a message of their own – that all those involved in the killing of journalists will be found and fully held accountable.  Mexico’s authorities have no more excuses, this deadly cycle of violence and impunity must end.

Javier Valdez Cárdenas, aged 50, was reportedly shot dead by unknown assailants close to the RíoDoce offices in Culiacán, Sinaloa State. He wrote regularly on drug trafficking and crime, and authored several books on the drugs trade, including his most recent, Narcoperiodismo (2016), which tells the experiences of journalists who have chosen to cover organised crime. In 2011, Valdez Cárdenas was the recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) International Press Freedom Award and in 2013 he was awarded the PEN Mexico Prize for Journalistic Excellence. According to CPJ, Valdez had reported concerns for his safety in the weeks before his murder.

The state prosecutor, Juan José Ríos Estavillo, has reportedly not ruled out Valdez’ journalism as a possible line of investigation and confirmed that the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos en contra de la Libertad de Expresión – FEADLE) will also be investigating, according to Univision.com.

On the very same day in Autlán, Jalisco state, unknown assailants fired upon the car of Sonia Córdova Oceguera, deputy director of  El Costeño  – a family-run weekly that covered local news stories – seriously wounding her and killing her son Jonathan Rodríguez Córdova, aged 26, also a journalist with the newspaper. It is not known whether one or both of them were the intended target of the attack. The state prosecutor is reported to be investigating.


In total, at least 87 writers and print journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2004. Since March 2017, seven journalists have been killed – a rate of two per month.  In March alone, journalists Cecilio Pineda Brito, Ricardo Monlui Cabrera and Miroslava Breach Velducea were gunned down, while journalists Armando Arrieta Granados and Julio Omar Gómez narrowly escaped attempts on their lives.

April bore witness to the murders of two more journalists; Maximino Rodríguez Palacios, editor of the news blog Colectivo Pericu who covered the crime beat. Rodríguez Palacios, aged 73, was shot dead in La Paz, in the state of Baja California Sur, on 14 April 2017. In the weeks before his death, he had reportedly incriminated the leader of a local cartel as the mastermind behind a spate of police killings. According to National Public Radio (NPR), the gun used against Rodríguez Palacios was the same as that used in the killing of a police officer; a clear indication that Rodríguez Palacios’ murder was linked to his work. On 29 April 2017, poet and local radio journalist Filiberto Álvarez Landeros, aged 65, was shot dead in Tlaquiltenango, Morelos state. Álvarez Landeros was reportedly making his way home after hosting his radio show ‘Poemas y Cantares’ for La Señal de Jojutla at the time of the attack.  He died on his way to hospital.

In the wake of these murders and the impunity for attacks on journalists, media outlets such as Norte de Ciudad Juárez have begun closing their doors. Meanwhile several journalists have fled, fearing for their lives. PEN calls upon the Mexican authorities to conduct full and prompt investigations into the journalists’ murders with the involvement of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. The authorities must safeguard the nation’s journalists.


World Press Freedom Day 2017 – Take action against impunity for crimes against journalists in Mexico
PEN Mexico Statement (Spanish)

Turkey: detention of Sözcü Daily staff effectively silences Turkey’s independent press

English PEN joins PEN International in condemdning the detention and arrest warrants targeting Turkey’s third most widely-read daily newspaper, Sözcü, another clear signal of the Turkish authorities’ resolve to continue their onslaught on freedom of expression.

On 19 May, Turkish anti-terror police detained the newspaper’s web manager Mediha Olgun and raided the houses of owner Burak Akbay, finance manager Yonca Kaleli and reporter Gökmen Ulu. According to reports from the state-owned Anadolu News Agency, the seventh Criminal Court of Peace of Istanbul issued arrest warrants for Kaleli and Ulu as well as for Akbay who is reportedly out of the country. The agency also stated that the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s office initiated the investigation on charges of ‘committing crimes on behalf of FETÖ (Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation) without being a member’, ‘facilitating armed attack against the government of Republic of Turkey’ and ‘facilitating assault against the President’.

Jennifer Clement, PEN International President, said:

We are witnessing the complete dismantling of Turkey’s free press right in front of our eyes. In today’s Turkey, freedom of expression and critical thought are criminal offences. PEN International is appalled at Turkey’s blatant and continued attack on critical and independent voices and will continue to support our friends and colleagues in Turkey.

The charges relate to a news story published by Sözcü daily on 15 July 2016 – ‘Sözcü found Erdoğan’ – in which reporter Gökmen Ulu wrote about the holiday resort in Marmaris where President Erdoğan was staying. The resort was attacked by military personnel looking for the president on the night of the coup.

In response to the allegations, Sözcü daily’s lawyer stated that the investigation had been going on for months and that prosecutors on the case had been changed six times, after he submitted his 70-page defense to the previous persecutors and no criminal activity was found.

Mainstream media in Turkey have been all but silenced since the attempted coup. According to PEN International’s records, 29 publishing houses, 15 news channels, four news agencies and 45 local and national newspapers have been shut down in the course of 11 months while 163 journalists remain behind bars.

Sözcü is the largest opposition daily in circulation in the country, with 271,000 readers, and one of the last critical outlets still in print.

PEN calls on the Turkish authorities to halt executive interference with independent news organisations and to end the prosecutions and detention of journalists simply on the basis of the content of their journalism or alleged affiliations. The organisation further calls on the authorities to end the state of emergency and to ensure that investigations into those responsible for the coup are limited to those alleged to be directly involved in criminal activity, are based on evidence, and that due process is guaranteed with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

Uganda: drop charges against academic Dr Stella Nyanzi

PEN welcomes the news that prominent feminist academic and activist Dr Stella Nyanzi was released on bail on 10 May, but continues to call for the charges against her to be dropped immediately and unconditionally, as she should never have been arrested in the first place.

Dr Nyanzi was arrested on 7 April 2017 and charged three days later with cyber harassment and offensive communication, for her Facebook posts criticizing Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, in particular one where she referred to the president as a ‘pair of buttocks.’ She was detained for 33 days before she was granted bail. Dr Nyanzi faces her next court hearing on 25 May 2017.

PEN believes Dr Nyanzi has been charged for peacefully expressing her views and calls on the Ugandan authorities to uphold freedom of expression and allow Dr Nyanzi to continue her activism unabated by dropping the charges against her.

For further information, please visit the PEN International website.


Spread the word

Share details of Dr Nyanzi’s case on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. #FreeStellaNyanzi

Send a message of support

If you would like to send a message of support to Dr Nyanzi please do so via lianna.merner@pen-international.org

Write to the authorities

Please send appeals urging the Ugandan authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against Dr. Stella Nyanzi;
  • Comply with their obligations to protect freedom of expression as protected in the Ugandan Constitution and as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Please write to:

Mr Mike Chibita
Director of Public Prosecutions
Directorate of Public Prosecutions
Workers House, Plot 1 Pilkington Road
Kampala, Uganda

Major General (rtd) Kahinda Otafiire
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
Bauman House, Plot 5, Parliament Avenue
P. O. Box 7183
Kampala, Uganda
Fax: +25641254829
Email: info@justice.go.ug

Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Uganda in your country.  A list of embassies can be found here

***Please contact PEN if sending appeals after 25 May 2017*** 


Iran: writer and journalist Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand released after 10-years of arbitrary detention

PEN warmly welcomes the news that prominent Iranian journalist and writer Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand was released on 12 May 2017. Kabudvand was serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges which PEN considered to be politically-motivated.

Kabudvand, an Honorary Member of Austrian PEN, PEN Català, Swedish PEN and Sydney PEN, was an editor of the banned weekly Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan (Kurdistan People’s Message) and co-founder and former chair of the Tehran-based Kurdistan Human Rights Organization (RMMK).

Arrested on 1 July 2007 at his place of work in Tehran by plainclothes security officers, Kabudvand spent the first five months of his detention in solitary confinement and suffered ill-treatment. He was sentenced at a closed trial, on 22 June 2008, to 10 years in prison for ‘acting against national security’ by forming a human rights organisation in Iran’s Kurdish region and publicising alleged human rights abuses, and an extra year of imprisonment on charges of ‘spreading propaganda against the system by disseminating news’. On 23 October 2008, the Tehran Appeal Court upheld his conviction, but reduced the sentence to 10 years in prison.

Last year, on 8 May 2016, Kabudvand began a hunger strike in protest at his continued imprisonment and the possibility of new charges being brought against him. Kabudvand ended his hunger strike after the authorities decided not to pursue the new charges.

PEN welcomes Kabudvand’s long overdue release but continues to call for the release of the many other writers, journalists and publishers who are unfairly imprisoned in Iran – including poet Mahvash Sabet and journalist Narges Mohammadi – in violation of their right to freedom of expression and opinion.


Send letters of appeal

Please send appeals:

  • Welcoming the release of prominent Iranian journalist and writer Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand;
  • Calling on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all writers, journalists and publishers who are held in violation of their right to freedom of expression and opinion;
  • Ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Iran is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Appeals to:

Leader of the Islamic Republic
Grand Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street — End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: http://www.leader.ir/langs/en/index.php?p=letter
Twitter: @khamenei_ir English-language account), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic-language), @Khamenei_es (Spanish-language account).

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
c/o Public Relations Office
Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi – Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Hassan Rouhani
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: media@rouhani.ir

Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and
@Rouhani_ir (Persian)

And copy to the Embassy of Iran in your country. You can find embassy addresses here.