Letter to Prime Minister Davutoğlu: Free Turkey’s Imprisoned Writers

Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu,

As writers committed to protecting and defending freedom of expression around the world, we, the undersigned, are extremely concerned about the increasing climate of fear and censorship and the stifling of critical voices in Turkey.

In recent years, the Turkish authorities have made extraordinary efforts to silence critics and dissent, as documented in PEN’s recent report on free expression in the country. This has had an impact on all areas of Turkish society, from the harsh repression of peaceful protesters in Gezi Park; to the increasing crackdown on freedom of expression online; to the arrest and detention of dozens of writers, journalists and academics. In the last two years, half of all freedom of expression related cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights concerned Turkey.  Current legislation and surveillance practices not only diminish freedom of speech for the country’s writers and journalists but seriously threaten the fundamental rights and freedoms of tens of millions of individuals.

In the last 12 months alone, a number of disturbing developments have led to the greater restriction and repression of free speech:  amendments to the Internal Security Law giving police powers to conduct surveillance without a warrant, the repeated blocking of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and the shutting down of left-wing and Kurdish websites. Additionally, a number of books have either been censored or banned.

Recent months have also seen an aggressive campaign by President Erdoğan to stifle his critics through the lodging of complaints alleging insult to the president, an offence which carries a four-year prison term. According to Turkey’s justice minister, as many as 1,845 of these cases have been opened since President Erdoğan came to office in 2014. For example, in February 2016, an investigation was launched against Atalay Girgin for insulting the president in his book Lağımpaşalı which narrates the fable of a group of rats.

On 26 November 2015 Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, and his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, were arrested. They were charged with espionage and other national security offences, in relation to the publication of video and photographic evidence in Cumhuriyet in May 2015 of arms deliveries by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist groups in Syria. Following a Constitutional Court ruling that their imprisonment was a violation of their rights both were released, however the criminal charges against them remain. Their trial begins tomorrow.  We believe that Can Dündar and Erdem Gül are facing life in prison simply for carrying out their legitimate work as journalists.

Over a thousand academics are under investigation for signing a statement calling for an end to military operations in southeast Turkey. Journalists trying to report from the area have been denied access and some have been arrested. Three journalists have been killed since November 2015, reflecting the increasingly dangerous situation for reporters in the region. In another widely condemned move, on 4 March 2016, court appointed trustees took over the management of Feza Media Group, which includes the opposition Zaman and Today’s Zaman daily papers as well as the Cihan news agency.

Freedom of expression - a right enshrined in Turkey’s constitution - is the cornerstone of a democratic and fair society. For a society to be open, free and diverse, individuals must be able to live without fear of reprisals or censorship for what they believe or express. We urge you to release all writers imprisoned in Turkey simply for their peaceful exercise of free speech, to drop similar charges against all others, including Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, and to amend or repeal all legislation which unduly restricts freedom of expression.

Abraham T. Zere, PEN Eritrea


Aleid Trujens

Alejandro Sánchez-Aizcorbe

Alfredo de Zayas, PEN Suisse Romand

Álvaro Durand

Andrey Bitov, Russian PEN

Anthony Cohan

Antonio Della Rocca, Trieste PEN

Arpad Vicko

Bei Ling, Independent Chinese PEN Centre

Breyten Breytenbach, PEN Afrikaans

Burhan Sönmez, Writers Circle Member

Carles Torner, PEN International

Carlos Rene Garcia Escobar, PEN Guatemala

Carmes Arenas, PEN Català

Christoph Ransmayr

Colm Tóibín, Writers Circle Member

David Lagercrantz, Writers Circle Member

David Bezmozgis

DBC Pierre

Drew Campbell, Scottish PEN

Ece Temelkuran

Elfriede Jelinek

Elif Shafak, Writers Circle Member

Elisabeth Nordgren

Emile Martel, PEN Quebec

Emmanuel Pierrat

Eugene Schoulgin, PEN International Vice-President

Fflur Dafydd

Frankie Asare-Donkoh, Ghanaian PEN

Freya Klier

Gabrielle Alioth

Gillian Clarke

Gloria Guardia, PEN International Vice President

Gojko Bozovic

Gustáv Murín

György Dragomán

Gwyneth Lewis

Hanan Al-Sheikh, Writers Circle Member

Hanan Awwad, Palestinian PEN

Hans-Christian Oeser

Herta Müller

Homero Aridjis, President Emeritus. Writers Circle Member

Jarkko Tonti

Jennifer Clement, PEN International President

Jiro Asada, PEN Japan. Writers Circle Member

JM Coetzee, PEN International Vice President

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, PEN International. Writers Circle Member

John Ralston Saul, President Emeritus.  Writers Circle Member

Josef Haslinger, German PEN

Judith Rodriguez, Writers Circle Member

Judyth Hill, San Miguel PEN

Karl Ove Knausgaard, Writers Circle Member

Kay Boland, Irish PEN

Kirsten Thorup

Kirsty Gunn

Lauren Beukes

Lucina Kathmann, PEN International

Luisa Valenzuela, PEN Argentina

Madgda Carneci, PEN Romania

Magali Tercero, PEN Mexico

Mandla Langa

Manon Uphoff, PEN Netherlands

Marcela Valencia Tsuchica

Margaret Atwood, Writers Circle Member, Vice President

Margie Orford, PEN South Africa

María Gabriela Mizraje

Mario Vargas Llosa, PEN International President Emeritus

Martin Putnam, PEN Centre USA

Maureen Freely, English PEN

Menna Elfyn, PEN Wales Cymru

Michael Ondaatje

Milan R. Simic

Mille Rode

Monica Ali

Moris Farhi, PEN International Vice President

Neda Nikolić Bobić

Niels Barfoed, PEN International Vice President

Nedzad Ibrahimovic, PEN Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nguyên Hoàng Nguyên Hoàng, PEN Suisse Romand

Nicholas Kawinga, Zambian PEN

Ola Larsmo, Swedish PEN

Owen Sheers

Patricia Morey

Per Wästberg, PEN International President Emeritus

Per Øhrgaard, Danish PEN

Peter Zilahy

Randy   Boyagoda, PEN Canada

Rohinston Mistry

Sir Ronald Harwood, President Emeritus

Salil Tripathi, PEN International

Sirpa Kähkönen, Finnish PEN

Sjón, Icelandic PEN

Sofi Oksanen, Writers Circle Member

Suzanne Nossel, PEN America

Tulio Mora, PEN Peru

Velimir  Kostov

Vida Ognjenovic, PEN Serbia. Writers Circle Member

Vladislav Bajac

Vonne van der Meer

William Nygaard, Norwegian PEN

Yann Martel, Writers Circle Member

Zaradecht Hajo, Kurdish PEN

Zeynep Oral, Turkish PEN


Free Turkey’s Imprisoned Writers

Read in Turkish here