Letter from Jennifer Clements, President of PEN International. ‘Turkey: The largest prison for journalists in the world
Dear PEN Colleagues and friends,
Over these past months we have watched as Turkey, a country with an extraordinary cultural heritage in all the arts, has once again become the largest prison for journalists in the world.
In the wake of the attempted coup, the Turkish government’s crackdown on human rights and freedom of expression has been swift and relentless. More than 40,000 people have been detained, including over 100 journalists and writers, 22,000 issued with arrest warrants, and over 86,000 people have been suspended or fired from state bodies, including over 2,300 journalists and other writers. 102 media organisations and 29 publishing houses were ordered shut on 28 July and there have been reports of ill-treatment of those held in custody. There has been a massive purge of teachers and academics. PEN International called for the protection of freedom of expression in the immediate aftermath of these events and has continued to press for free speech to be respected during the state of emergency. We have been categorical and vocal about the fact that the government’s legitimate right to investigate those who committed crimes during the attempted coup does not give it licence to crush freedom of assembly, association, and expression.
On 31 August, the renowned writer and linguist Necmiye Alpay, was arrested on terror charges as a part of an ongoing investigation into closed daily Özgür Gündem, the newspaper in which she serves as a member of the advisory board. You can take action for Necmiye Alpay here. PEN member and novelistAsli Erdogan remains behind bars, after enduring days of being denied essential medical care and even water. You can take action for Asli Erdogan here.
Two weeks days ago, Turkish authorities prevented Dilek Dündar, the wife of Turkish journalist and editor Can Dündar, from travelling out of Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, confiscating her passport and banning her from travelling abroad. This was possible because, on 1 September, an amendment to a law passed under its state of emergency extended the state’s power to confiscate the passports not only of those under investigation, but also their spouses and partners.
Speaking to PEN International, Can Dündar said: ‘This latest example perfectly encapsulates Turkey’s authoritarian rule under the state of emergency. In our new ‘judicial’ order, if one is put on trial, one’s entire family can be treated like criminals’.
Earlier this month, a number of PEN representatives were in Istanbul, attending the first hearing in a trial concerning three former senior editors of Taraf daily newspaper, Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur, and two journalists: Mehmet Baransu and Tuncay Opçin. The charges pre-date the 15 July coup attempt, and one of the accused, Mehmet Baransu has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest on 2 March 2015. This hearing is a stark reminder that Erdogan’s chokehold on free expression has been tightening for many years, and our on going fight for freedom for our friends and colleagues inTurkey must continue.
A week ago, writer and journalist, Ahmet Altan, and his brother Mehmet Altan, a prominent academic were arrested for allegedly spreading “subliminal messages announcing a military coup” in relation to a TV interview on 14 July, the day before the failed coup attempt in Turkey. PEN is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
We did receive some rare good news from Turkey last week. Turkish writer, composer, world-renowned and PEN case pianist Fazil Say had his conviction for “religious defamation” acquitted after a four-year long battle.
I look forward to continuing our work with you to address these increasingly challenging times.
President of PEN International