A large delegation of PEN International members was stopped on their way to Silivri Prison on Thursday where they wanted to deliver a message of support for Turkey’s jailed authors.
The Cumhuriyet daily reported that the delegation was not allowed to reach the prison gate or read a statement showing solidarity with intellectuals who are under a severe crackdown in Turkey.
After the gendarmerie stopped the delegation, the protesters were forced to delete the footage of the intervention due to a ban on taking photographs under a state of emergency currently in force in Turkey.
A statement by PEN President Jennifer Clement was also interrupted. Following the prevention of the solidarity event, PEN shared a message on its Twitter account telling Turkey’s imprisoned writers that world writers say to them, “You are not alone.”
The PEN statement said that almost 150 authors and journalists have been left helpless behind bars in Turkey.
A report published on Thursday by new advocacy group the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) revealed that 191 journalists are in jail, 92 are wanted and 839 have been charged in Turkey.
SCF has documented the individual cases of 191 journalists who are either convicted and serving time in prison or jailed in pre-trial detention.
INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED AUTHORS PLEDGE SUPPORT TO IMPRISONED WRITERS
Meanwhile, over 100 writers have put their names to a message pledging solidarity with Turkey’s imprisoned writers and journalists and promising to “raise our global voice against any effort to silence yours.” The letter organised by freedom of expression organisation PEN International has attracted support from number of high profile signatories including Nobel laureates Elfriede Jelinek, J.M Coetzee and Mario Vargas Llosa, and writers Ian Rankin, Elif Şafak, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen and Yann Martel.
Rankin and Şafak, alongside authors Tom Stoppard and Ali Smith, last January petitioned former prime minister David Cameron to raise the crisis facing freedom of expression in Turkey with former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu when he visited London.
The unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression since July 2016’s attempted coup against President Erdoğan, carried out under the state of emergency regulations, has seen at least 29 publishing houses and 187 media outlets have been closed. Soon after this, global publishing chiefs including Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House, Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster and Arnaud Nourry of Hachette Livre condemned the closures as “an assault on parliamentary democracy, the government and the people”.
One of Turkey’s most celebrated novelists, Aslı Erdoğan, was released from jail in December, along with 70-year-old translator Necmiye Alpay after months of pre-trial detention, but unsubstantiated criminal proceedings against them are still ongoing, the result of which could be life in jail.
Other persecuted writers cited in the letter are Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and the editor of its books supplement Turhan Günay, and novelist Ahmet Altan, who, published in the UK by Canongate, has been held on alleged terror charges since September.
THE LETTER SENT TO ALL IMPROSENED JOURNALISTS
The letter, which has been sent to all imprisoned Turkish journalists, says: “We are writing to you to let you know that you are not alone. We are writing to tell you that we will not stand idly by in your time of need. We will not be silent while your human rights are violated. We will raise our global voice against any effort to silence yours.
“PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members and supporters pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world.
“A climate of free expression where the free exchange of ideas is facilitated fosters mutual understanding, transparency and accountability and ultimately enhances national security. Turkey must uphold its obligations to protect free expression and other human rights and the writers of Turkey must be able to speak, to criticise, to protest, without fear of reprisals. Our word, our pens, our voices in your support is our continued pledge to you.”
The message of solidarity, which can be read in full on PEN’s website, was published as PEN International’s high-level mission to assess the situation for freedom of expression in Turkey ends. The mission, led by PEN International president Jennifer Clement and chairman of the Nobel Prize for Literature Per Wästberg, among others, met with writers, journalists, human rights defenders, civils society actors, as well as Minister of Culture Nabi Avcı, party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and MPs and political figures from across Turkey’s political landscape. The delegation also visited the offices of newspapers currently facing Turkey’s increasing clampdown: Cumhuriyet daily, BirGün daily, Agos daily, Evrensel daily and Özgürlükçü Demokrasi daily.
‘GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF WRITERS TO RESIST ANY ATTEMPT TO SILENCE THEIR VOICES’
Clement, PEN International president, said: “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. That is why we are proud to be here today, figures from across PEN’s global community, standing in active and public solidarity with our friends and colleagues in Turkey.”
PEN International Campaigns Manager Sahar Halaimzai added: “Today there are now more writers and journalists imprisoned in Turkey than China, Egypt and Eritrea combined. PEN’s message to our colleagues in Turkey and to the Turkish authorities is a simple one: our global community of writers and members will to resist any attempts to diminish or silence their voices.”