Turkey: three writers sentenced to life in prison

We salute Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak for their courage in the face of injustice. We shall not rest until justice prevails – Maureen Freely, Chair, English PEN 

English PEN is appalled by the latest verdicts in Turkey which have seen leading writer Ahmet Altan, his brother, academic Mehmet Altan, and fellow journalist Nazlı Ilıcak all sentenced to life in prison.

On 16 February 2018, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were convicted of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code and sentenced to aggravated life sentences, or life without parole.

Our colleagues at PEN International and partners on the Free Turkey Media Campaign, ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have been observing the trial since the first hearing in July 2017 and have found the proceedings to be in violation of the defendants’ rights to a fair trial. The final week-long hearing, which began in Caglayan Court in central Istanbul on 12 February, was unfortunately no exception.

On the first day of proceedings, Mehmet Altan’s lawyer was ejected for insisting that the landmark Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) decision on his client’s case, ruling that his rights to ‘personal liberty and security’ and to ‘freedom of expression and the press’ had been violated, be included in the court’s record. The ongoing refusal to implement this decision is in violation of Article 315 of the Turkish Constitution.

Shortly afterwards, the judge ruled that the hearing would be moved to Silivri Prison Court, seemingly in an attempt to limit international observation and media coverage. As a result, PEN International’s Policy and Advocacy Manager Sarah Clarke was one of just two international observers in attendance at the high security prison court on 13 February when the Altans and Ilıcak gave their closing defence statements. No diplomats were present, leading PEN and others to issue an urgent call to the international community to demonstrate their commitment to ‘advocating for human rights’ by attending the closing hearing.

Following the announcement of the verdicts on 16 February, Clarke commented:

This sets a devastating precedent for scores of other journalists charged with similarly groundless charges.

[The] verdict and sentences of life without parole for Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak mark an apex of the disintegration of the rule of law in Turkey. [The] judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights must act.

She went on to detail what the sentence could mean if not overturned:

An aggravated life sentence is Turkey’s replacement for the death sentence. It means 30 years of confinement. One visit from close family every two weeks. One call every ten days. This is […] barbaric punishment for […] writing.

The verdict has been widely condemned by human rights groups and international journalists, as well as by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir.

Meanwhile, European member states are also being urged to increase political pressure on Turkey to release the Altans, Nazlı Ilıcak and the more than 100 other journalists currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression. The UK, reportedly ‘the single biggest obstacle to putting pressure on Turkey’, undoubtedly needs to do more.


Show your support for the Altan brothers and Nazlı Ilıcak on social media
#FreeTheAltanBrothers #FreeNazlıIlıcak #FreeTurkeyMedia

More suggested actions coming soon.

Miles Jupp and Harriet Braine complete The Big PEN Comedy Gig line-up

English PEN is delighted to announce that actor, comedian and chair of BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, Miles Jupp, will complete the line-up for The Big PEN Comedy Gig: You (Still) Can’t Say That! alongside musical comedian and Funny Women of the Year Stage Award-winner, Harriet Braine.

With the master of thought-provoking political satire, Nick Revell, at the helm, the night will play host to an incredible programme of comedians all standing up for free speech and supporting English PEN’s work in the fight for freedom of expression.

The evening – taking place on Thursday  1 March at Union Chapel, Islington – will include sets from comic actor of Nighty-Night, Brass Eye and Fist of Fun fame Kevin Eldon; the hugely talented Olivier Award-winning stand-up comedian Pippa Evans; performance poet, comedian, musician and songwriter John Hegley; BBC Radio 4 Infinite Monkey Cage presenter, comedian and writer Robin Ince; BBC New Comedy Awards 2016 finalist Sindhu Vee; and legendary comic duo Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden.

Book tickets

Line-up subject to change.

Proceeds from the event will go towards supporting English PEN’s work defending the freedom to read and the freedom to write in the UK and around the world: campaigning for writers at risk, running creative writing workshops with refugees, taking the most exciting new international contemporary literature to new audiences and keeping free speech safe for us all.

See photos from last year’s Big PEN Comedy Gig here.

Produced by English PEN and Funny for Good.

VACANCY: Finance and Governance Manager

  1. £40,000 pro rata
  2. 21 hours per week

We are looking for a Finance Manager with experience of the charity sector to take the lead role on managing our charity’s finances and support the Director and the board of Trustees develop an exciting future for English PEN in the lead up to its centenary in 2021.

You will work closely with our small dynamic team supporting them to develop and manage project budgets and with the Director on business planning. You lead work on the annual audit and accounts and be familiar with providing and presenting management accounts, managing payroll and pensions, claiming gift aid and managing payments.

You will understand the finance and governance of running a small to medium sized charity, demonstrate outstanding attention to detail and be flexible and able to manage competing priorities. You will be sympathetic to our work defending the right to freedom of expression and championing the most exciting new literature in the UK and internationally.

Full Job Description

Further information – About English PEN

Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form

To Apply

Please send your CV with a covering letter telling us about your experience that makes you suitable for this post and your interest in working for English PEN to vacancies@englishpen.org.

We also request that you include a completed copy of our Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form with your application. This is optional, but helps English PEN improve its recruitment procedures. Your completed form will not be passed onto the selection panel.

Closing date: Monday 19 February 2018
Interviews: Monday 26 February 2018

You (Still) Can’t Say That: Nick Revell

Hello. This is a piece plugging our comedy benefit gig, and it has no jokes in it. The piece, that is; the gig will be full of them – from a brilliant line-up including Robn Ince from (amongst many other things) The Infinite Monkey Cage, the incomparable comic poet and songwriter John Hegley, comedian and comic actor Kevin Eldon, who has worked with Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, Stewart Lee, Martin Scorsese, and me – to name but a few, in no particular order of brilliance. Sindhu Vee is in my opinion one of the rising stars on the comedy circuit. It’s a phrase I rarely use, but in this case it’s bang on and can’t be bettered even though it’s a cliche. (And I’m a really good judge.) Catch her before she’s huge. Likewise, Pippa Evans, whom you might have seen on Live at the Palladium last year. Her Edinburgh Fringe shows always sell out throughout the run, and she is a regular on The Now! Show on Radio 4.

We are also proud and delighted to have the unique and wonderful double act of Ronnie Golden and genuine comedy legend Barry Cryer; you name any British comedy act, Barry has worked with them, for them, has an anecdote or twelve about them. Star of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, warm-up man for Monty Python’s Flying Circus…the man is more than a comic force – he’s a part of the country’s cultural fabric. And Ronnie – lead singer of The Fabulous Poodles and Ronnie and The Rex, backing musician for Chuck Berry, touring and drinking partner of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Buddy Holly in The Young Ones, stalwart of the comedy circuit for over 30 years…it’s going to be a proper treat.

So why are we all doing this gig – at the Union Chapel, in Islington on Thursday 1 March?

Well, English PEN campaigns for freedom of speech and for the rights and release of persecuted and imprisoned writers and journalists the world over. So it’s total self-interest for us, really. Being able to say what you want, including being offensive, is an essential tool of our trade as comedians. In the same way that when Boris Johnson enters a china shop, he always needs a bull with him. Yes, OK, a joke, and yes, rather laboured. I’m not getting paid and it’s late.

The obvious comic route to take when you’re plugging a gig about protecting freedom of speech is to say how we could all come up with a list of journalists we wouldn’t mind seeing in jail, of offensive – or just tiresome – rentagobs you’d love to punch in the mouth. How people expressing different opinions is where all the trouble starts in the first place. Problem of course, everyone has a different list. I’m probably on some people’s – I hope so. And actually, even if we all had exactly the same list, it would still be a problem. But it’s an overused comic paradox, and especially as I’ve already used the cliche ‘rising star’ – albeit accurately, I’m just going to stick to the plugging: 1 March, Union Chapel, Islington. It’s a Thursday. And a great bill.

To finish off, some casually and randomly assembled cases from around the world, which, in my opinion, are all good reasons to support PEN and if you can, to support this benefit.

Turkey: over 150 writers and journalists are in jail. Scores of media outlets have been closed down during the current state of emergency. Ironically, President Erdogan himself was jailed for four months in 1998 for writing a political poem. PEN would have been campaigning for him at that point. (That’s a good thing. Not that the incontrovertible evidence of his hypocrisy loses him any sleep.)

Malta: you’ll no doubt remember the spectacularly horrific murder by car bomb of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia last October. She’d been exposing international corruption centred in Malta for 30 years. PEN is helping in the campaign to have her assassination fully and openly investigated.

Bahrain: Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace has been in jail since June 2011, where he has been mistreated, tortured, denied adequate medical treatment and deprived of reading and writing materials. All because he is a human rights activist and blogger. And of course, many others share his plight. I wonder if they can hear the Formula One cars from their prison cells when the Grand Prix is on. That would make a nice change from the screaming from next door. Formula One got rid of hospitality-girls last week as a gesture to 21st century decency. Evidently, boycotting countries that jail and torture human rights campaigners is way more controversial.

That’s always the argument from the commercial interests and the democratic countries – that economic arguments constitute a force majeure – good trade deals must not be jeopardised. (That’s assuming a hypothetical situation where Britain is actually capable of negotiating a good trade deal ever again, instead of sitting at the table like a poker player with no cards, no hands, and a big mirror behind them just for good measure).

But let’s live in the real world for a moment, shall we? Without repressive regimes, who do we sell our torture equipment to? I for one know that, were I being electrocuted with a cattle-prod in a subterranean dungeon somewhere, I’d feel a lot happier knowing I was supporting a traditional British craftsman who takes pride in making genital-burning equipment to the highest of traditional British standards. Not only that, it would cheer me to be part of the supply chain which enables that craftsman to pay for hospital parking while he spends all day and all night frantically running up and down a draughty corridor begging exhausted medical students to attend to his ageing, ailing mother, and ends up helping them break into the pharmacy to steal amphetamines in a desperate attempt to keep them awake for the entirety of their 72-hour shift. Knowing I was supporting a thriving post-Brexit economy would turn the searing pain surging through my testicles into a warm patriotic glow. I’m sure it would.

I know it’s more complicated than that – but at the same time, it’s actually not: however desperate things get economically – for whatever reason (and I’m not pointing a finger at anyone or anything, least of all that mendacious megalomaniac Boris Johnson) – however desperate situations get, however attractive or acceptable it seems to take ‘short term’ repressive measures for ‘the general good’, or turn a blind eye to other people doing it – there always needs to be someone making the strong and simple counter-argument for basic human rights over profit.

That’s what English PEN does, and it needs money. Do come.

I promise the gig will be a lot funnier. And if it’s not, feel free to punch me in the mouth.

Book tickets

Watch the video from last year’s gig with Adam Bloom, Andy Hamilton, Shappi Khorsandi, Stewart Lee & Jonny and the Baptists

You Can’t Say That! from Robin Samson on Vimeo.

See photos from last year’s Big PEN Comedy Gig here.

Produced by English PEN and Funny for Good.

Malta: 100 days since Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered

Today marks 100 days since leading investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in Malta. We and many others will continue to call for justice for as long as it takes.

Last week, we joined fellow freedom of expression organisations in calling on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to appoint a Special Rapporteur to oversee the murder investigation. On 22 January, Daphne’s sons Andrew, Matthew and Paul, travelled to Strasbourg to meet with PACE delegates, securing 114 signatures for their motion in a single day.

We are very grateful to Tom Brake MP who has tabled an Early Day Motion here in the UK to mark today’s sad anniversary, and to Caroline Lucas MP, Stewart McDonald MP and Paul Flynn MP for co-sponsoring and ensuring that this is a cross-party motion. We have been working closely with Daphne’s sons over the last few months to support their calls for justice and know that a strong show of support from MPs here in the UK will mean a huge amount to them.


Spread the word

Share details of Daphne’s case and her writing with friends and colleagues and on social media. (#DaphneCaruanaGalizia #JusticeForDaphne #NoImpunity #EndImpunity)

Write to your MP

Please take a few moments to write to your MP asking them to add their support and let us know who you’ve written to via the comments box below. A sample letter follows but please do personalise this to increase the chances of it being read and responded to.


I’m writing both as one of your constituents and as a supporter of English PEN to ask whether you might consider adding your support to the Early Day Motion in support of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Today marks 100 days since leading investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in her native Malta. PEN has been working closely with her sons over the last few months to support their calls for justice and a strong show of support from MPs here in the UK will mean a huge amount to them.

I’d be very grateful indeed if you would be willing to add your support.



Yours sincerely