2016 was a year of turmoil and tragedy in Turkey. A total of 24 bombings across the country claimed at least 385 lives: the highest number of attacks Turkey has seen in recent decades, and more than the total number of attacks in Europe combined. More attacks have taken place in the first 10 days of 2017.
In July we witnessed a failed coup attempt, which resulted in at least 265 deaths and the imposition of a state of emergency, granting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan draconian powers to imprison teachers, civil servants, politicians, writers and journalists en masse. Today there are close to 150 journalists in prison in Turkey. This makes it the largest prison for journalists in the world, surpassing China, Egypt and Eritrea. Over 170 news organisations have been shut down, more than 30 publishing houses have been closed, and every day there are new stories of people being imprisoned simply for exercising their right to free expression, resulting in a near-total silencing of critical voices.
On December 29 – after months behind bars – Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were freed, though charges against them remain. While we celebrated this much awaited good news from Turkey, Ahmet Şık was arrested at his home in Istanbul and held in solitary confinement, without access to clean water for three days. He remains in prison, and his fate – along with thousands of others’ – remains unclear.
Ahmet Şık joins a long list of writers in prison in Turkey. They include ten executive staff from opposition daily Cumhuriyet: editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, editor of the books supplement, Turhan Günay, and columnist and IPI board member Kadri Gürsel, all held since 31 October 2016. Novelist Ahmet Altan has been held on alleged terror charges since 23 September 2016. More recently, six journalists from various outlets including Mahir Kanaat from BirGün daily and Ömer Çelik and Tunca Öğreten, managing editors of DİHA news agency and online news portal Diken respectively, remain detained without charge after their initial arrests on 25 November 2016.
PEN’s work in Turkey is more important than ever before and we must continue to stand in solidarity with writers who are being silenced. I attach updated actions concerning Asli Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay, calling for all charges against both of them to be dropped immediately and unconditionally. It’s never been more important that we continue to take action and raise our voices in defence of our fellow writers.
On a positive note, I am delighted to announce that the wonderful prize-winning novelist, publisher and lawyer Burhan Sönmez has joined the PEN International board. He is the author of three novels: North, Sins and Innocents, and İstanbul İstanbul, whichhave been translated into more than 20 languages. Sönmez was born in Turkey and grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish. He spent ten years living in exile in the UK, before returning to Turkey where he continues his work as a writer and lawyer.
Freedom of expression is protected both by Turkey’s constitution and by international law. President Erdoğan’s ongoing campaign to muzzle all dissident voices in Turkey must be met with resistance and we must stand in active and public solidarity with our friends and colleagues inside Turkey. As part of this resistance we are asking you to add your voice to English PEN’spetition calling for Ahmet Şık’s freedom and a message of solidarity to Turkey’s writers which PEN International will publish on 25 January 2017. I urge all PEN Centre presidents to sign the petition and the message of solidarity. Please also reach out to high-profile writers, artists and supporters in your Centre. If you would like add your voice please email Sahar Halaimzai:Sahar.email@example.com. This is a joint action so if you sign one, we will add your name to both actions. You can sign the petition for Ahmet Şık here and we encourage you to reach out to high-profile investigative journalists to add their name. Please note that the message of solidarity is embargoed until 25 January 2017.
Together we must oppose any form of repression of freedom of expression anywhere in the world.
PEN International President
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PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in 1921, PEN International connects an international community of writers from its Secretariat in London. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. International PEN is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088. www.pen-international.org
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