International PEN member arrested at airport in İstanbul

Gökhan Yavuzel

Gökhan Yavuzel, a UK-based member of PEN International who has been accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and who signed a peace declaration in 2016, was arrested on Sunday at an airport in Turkey, where he had returned after an absence of five years.

Yavuzel announced on Twitter that he had been arrested, saying, “After 5 years of exile, I had to return to the country [Turkey] due to health problems. I am currently under arrest at İstanbul Airport.”

Yavuzel was released the same day under a ban on leaving Turkey.

On April 12, 2019 an arrest warrant was issued for Yavuzel, who had signed a peace declaration titled “We will not participate in this crime” published by the Literature for Peace initiative in January 2016, on charges of disseminating propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

The early 2016 declaration called on the government to halt its security operations in the southeastern Turkey, restore peace in the country and return to the negotiating table to restart shelved talks on a peaceful solution to the so-called Kurdish issue.

The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.

Yavuzel was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2019.

On July 26, 2021 Yavuzel was physically attacked by an anti-Kurdish group near his home in Wales.

In September 2021 another arrest warrant was issued for Yavuzel for “insulting the president.”

Thousands of people in Turkey are under investigation, and most of them are under the threat of imprisonment over alleged insults of President Erdoğan.

Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey, according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media.

The insult cases generally stem from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of the president or his government as an insult.

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