For decades, PEN has been advocating against laws that restrict freedom of expression in Turkey, including anti-terrorism legislation, criminal defamation and the law prohibiting insulting Turkishness. Since the declaration of the state of emergency after the attempted coup in July 2016 and the rule by executive decree that has followed, PEN International has been working for a restoration of the rule of law.
Under the state of emergency, the situation for free speech and media freedom in Turkey has deteriorated at breakneck speed, in an attempt to quell critical and dissenting voices by a government that is moving ever closer to authoritarianism. Writers and journalists in Turkey are facing detention, torture, and harassment from a judicial system whose independence and capacity to deliver effective legal remedy has been undermined completely. Over 150 journalists and writers are in prison and more than 180 media outlets and publishing houses have been closed down. Others have been arrested, with some remaining in detention, for their social media activity or for otherwise peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. The Academics for Peace, for instance, face terrorism-related charges for calling for peace in the south-east of Turkey. Meanwhile, since the breakdown in negotiations between the Turkish authorities and the PKK in July 2015, the situation of Kurdish linguistic right has also declined significantly.
In these challenging circumstances PEN International is undertaking a host of activities in close collaboration with the PEN Centres and other international civil society actors. For one, we closely monitor many of the ongoing criminal trials in which free speech and free media are at stake, including observation of the trials against novelist Ahmet Altan and his brother professor Mehmet Altan, the journalists and staff of Cumhuriyet Daily, and the Academics for Peace, all of whom face spurious charges in relation to their alleged support for the attempted coup or terrorist organisations. Together with a host of other free expression NGOs, PEN International also intervened in the cases against writers and journalists before the European Court of Human Rights. Furthermore, through protection and advocacy activities both domestically and at the regional and international levels, we support writers, journalists and others who face persecution by the Turkish authorities solely for having peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression.
Faced with a veritable onslaught on its democratic values and the rule of law and human rights that underpin them, the resilience of Turkey’s advocates of free speech and of the family and friends of the victims has been remarkable. Through its work, PEN stands with them in the defence of the right to freedom of expression and unhampered transmission of thought.