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Statement from the President of PEN International expressing solidarity and supporting Freedom of Expression initiative in Turkey

Thursday 15 March 2012 - 5:01pm

Today in Istanbul PEN Turkey, the Turkish Publishers Association, the Writers' Syndicate of Turkey, and the Association of Literary Translators gathered to denounce the deterioration of the right to Freedom of Expression in Turkey.

More than a hundred journalists, writers and publishers are detained in Turkey, many of them held under the Anti-Terror law or imprisoned for their support for Kurdish groups, for what they have written or their political activism.

The event took place at the Conference Hall at the Journalists’ Association of Turkey and included panel debates on the the concept of Freedom of Thought and Expression in Law and its importance from the viewpoint of writers and journalists, as well as the preparation of an official statement from representatives of the organizations involved.

PEN International’s President John Ralston Saul issued a statement supporting the initiative and expressing solidarity on behalf of the PEN community:

Dear writers, Dear friends,

I am writing to you from Ethiopia, first to say how sorry I am not to be with you. However, you will hear the support of PEN International for freedom of expression in Turkey loud and clear from Tarik Günersel, President of Turkish PEN and Eugene Schoulgin, our International Vice-President.

What you are hearing is the concern, the support, and the anger of our thousands of members in over 100 countries around the world. Their message is clear. These writers, publishers and journalists must be released.

It is astonishing that apparently intelligent and educated men, once they are in power, slip into the illusion that they can control what people think by arresting and mistreating writers. History is perfectly clear. This does not work and those with authority who act in this way condemn themselves to the shadow side of history. They are wrong if they think that writers around the world, and indeed readers around the world, will accept this situation in silence. And they are wrong if they think that they can hide behind the misuse of nationalism or religion or fears of terrorism. These are the classic tools of people in power who do not wish to hear the intelligence of the citizenry engaged in open debate. That the Turkish authorities should be holding so many writers, publishers and journalists in prison today can only damage their ability as a government to be treated as a reasonable international voice. Freedom of expression is simply a tool for people to talk to each other. No self-respecting government need be afraid of it. I repeat, these writers, these publishers, these journalists must be released. If nothing else, it is a matter of Turkish honour.

John Ralston Saul
International President

Read the blog on the event written by Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, here

and an article on the event published in the Hurriyet Daily News here