Turkey’s president in dialogue with PEN International delegation
The delegation´s visit to Turkey took place from 12 – 18 november. PEN International and centers from the USA, Sweden, England, Turkey and Norway participated. In the meeting with President Abdullah Gül in Ankara 13 November, the delegation asked that the country does something concrete to stop the alarming increase in the number of writers, journalists, translators and publishers who are detained or prosecuted in the country. PEN International President, John Ralston Saul, said at a press conference in Istanbul 15.11 – Prisoners Authors Day – that the «positive political and economic developments in Turkey was overshadowed by concern over the lack of freedom of expression in the country.
Below is a comprehensive report in English. You can also download an extensive press report at this link.
‘Quick and concrete action’
PEN International Calls for Release and Reform of Laws Restricting Turkey’s Writers, Publishers, Translators and Journalists
Istanbul, 15 November 2012 – A delegation of writers from PEN International today called on the government of Turkey to take “quick and concrete action” to reverse an alarming rise in the number of writers, journalists, translators and publishers who are in prison or on trial in the country. Speaking at a press conference today in Istanbul, PEN International president John Ralston Saul warned that positive political and economic developments are being overshadowed by concerns about the freedom to write in Turkey.
“We recognize that Turkey has seen important gains in democratization and civil and political rights in recent years, and we believe the momentum for reform is ongoing,” Saul said. “But for our many colleagues currently in prison or on trial — including members of PEN Turkey — processes and promises are no consolation. We are asking the government of Turkey to act now to ensure that no-one is being penalized for practising the right to peaceful freedom of expression, and to release all who may be held in violation of that right.”
Joining Saul were PEN members from Japan, Switzerland, Lebanon, the United States, Norway, Canada, and the United Kingdom, part of a 20-member delegation that he said “conveys the seriousness and urgency of PEN’s concern over the rising tide of trials of their colleagues in Turkey.”
Today’s press conference followed meetings in Ankara this week with President Abdullah Gül and Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bağış. The delegation pressed for reforms to Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law, to clearly distinguish between incitement to violence and the expression of non-violent, if controversial, ideas and an end to lengthy pre-trial detentions and legal proceedings that can drag on for years. They also presented the president and the minister with a list of key cases of writers, journalists, translators, and publishers who are in detention, on trial or facing prosecution in violation of their right to freedom of expression. PEN will be submitting further information to the government regarding these cases.
The PEN delegation also met with Öztürk Türkdoğan, president of the Human Rights Association, who underlined the organisation’s concerns with the deteriorating situation for freedom of expression in Turkey.
At today’s news conference, delegation member and PEN Turkey president Tarık Günersel spoke movingly about three cases emblematic of the serious situation in Turkey: the human rights lawyer Muharrem Erbey, in pre-trial detention for almost three years; translator Ayşe Berktay, in detention for one year and accused of being the “international advocate” of the banned organization KCK; and journalist Mustafa Balbay, in prison since 2009, facing charges ranging from membership in an unlawful organization to attempting to provoke an armed uprising. All of them, Günersel insisted, have in fact been detained for peaceful expression. These are just three of many cases on PEN’s list, Günersel emphasized, noting that in every case the rights violation extends to family and friends as well, all of whom endure uncertainty and financial hardship and the stigma of being branded terrorists or criminals.
After the news conference, the international delegation was to join members of PEN Turkey and writers from around the world for an afternoon of multilingual readings commemorating writers at risk. For more than 30 years, 15 November has been designated as the Day of the Imprisoned Writer in PEN centres around the World, a day on which PEN members honour their imprisoned, threatened and murdered colleagues.
“It is unfortunate that at this event the texts we will be reading include the writings of so many of our colleagues from this country,” Saul said at the press conference. “It is our sincere hope that at this time next year we will instead be able to celebrate their release and the end of these draining and damaging legal proceedings.”
You can access our full statement here.
PEN International calls for changes in legislation to protect freedom of expression in Turkey
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN TURKEY
PEN INTERNATIONAL STATEMENT
Turkey has an extraordinarily high number of writers and journalists in prison, and many other writers, journalists and publishers are currently on trial or facing trial. Most have been prosecuted or face prosecution because of their alleged affiliation with or support for organisations that advocate violence. However, PEN International believes that a significant number of the writers, publishers and journalists who are in prison or on trial in Turkey have been targeted for what they have written or published, and that Turkey’s broadly framed anti-terror laws are empowering overzealous state prosecutors to pursue cases where no material links to terrorism exist. The number of cases PEN International is monitoring in Turkey has increased alarmingly in the past year: more than 70 writers and journalists are currently in prison, and at least 60 other writers, publishers and journalists, are on trial, ensnared in legal processes that can last years.
This recent surge in prosecutions of writers, publishers and journalists in Turkey is reminiscent of the situation in Turkey in the 1990s, when PEN International protested the use by previous governments of overly-broad anti-terror laws to suppress writers and freedom of expression.
Since then, Turkey has gone through a period of significant political and economic development that has included increasing democratization, growing civilian authority over the military and, until recently, a steadily diminishing number of individual writers, publishers and journalists in prison or on trial for their work.
But the current increase in prosecutions of writers, publishers and journalists threatens to overshadow and undercut these achievements. PEN International is specifically concerned that:
• The majority of these writers, publishers and journalists have been or are being prosecuted under the Anti-Terror Law which defines offences too broadly, is applied inconsistently across jurisdictions and has been used against writers, publishers and journalists who have not supported, plotted, or carried out acts of terrorism or violence.
• Seventy percent of those jailed are of Kurdish origin or are writers, publishers, journalists and intellectuals who support Kurdish political and cultural rights. This includes at least 36 journalists who are in prison in connection with the case against supporters of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), under which more than 1,000 people are currently on trial.
• The Anti-Terror Law has also been used to prosecute journalists in the Ergenekon case, including some who had merely reported on the police and the judiciary.
PEN International recognizes that among the anti-terror cases there may be some that demand judicial scrutiny. However, a lack of clarity surrounding judicial proceedings, the absence of public evidence and the widely varying interpretations of the Anti-Terror Law create the conditions in which security laws may be used to penalize activity that is clearly protected by Turkey’s national laws and by international laws guaranteeing freedom of expression.
In addition to the Anti-Terror Law, freedom of expression is suppressed under other laws as well. These include legal prohibitions on obscenity, praising offenders or offences, and incitement to ethnic or religious hatred. While some of these laws predate this government, and convictions under these laws have decreased in recent years, regulations such as Article 301—which criminalizes “denigrating the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic and Organs of the State”—remain on the books, creating the potential for continuing abuse. Freedom of expression is also threatened by recent legislation targeting digital media.
A series of legal reforms over the past decade has brought modest improvements in protections for freedom of expression.
Under the July 2012 Third Judicial Reform Act, for example, judges can now offer non-custodial sentences and suspend trials and prosecutions against writers, journalists and publishers accused for their writings and publications in cases that carry penalties of up to five years in prison.
The impact of these reforms remains limited, however, because journalists continue to receive prison sentences under the Anti-Terror Law, and few media crimes cases have been suspended.
At the same time, structural and procedural practices remain in place that contribute to the high numbers of writers, publishers and journalists in prison or facing trial.
PEN International is especially concerned that:
• The Turkish legal system imposes extremely long periods of pre-trial detention on suspects. PEN International is currently following cases of writers, publishers and journalists who have served up to four years in prison and still have not been convicted of any crimes. These conditions create an atmosphere of intimidation for writers and journalists, who risk lengthy spells in prison when they publish controversial but legitimate comment even if they are eventually cleared of any crime.
• Even in cases without pre-trial detention, writers, publishers and journalists in Turkey face lengthy trials that may last for years. Many cases end with acquittals or minor fines, suggesting that the original basis for prosecution was weak under Turkish law. Instead, those who bring these cases do so to harass and intimidate the authors (who face draining, debilitating defences that can drag on for months or years) and thereby to send warnings to others.
The large number of writers, publishers and journalists who are in prison or are on trial under broadly framed and inconsistently applied laws, often in obscure proceedings, affects all who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
Many writers, publishers and journalists in Turkey have expressed concern to PEN International about a climate of intimidation and fear that is fostering widespread self-censorship. Many dread publishing controversial but completely legitimate opinions and ideas that are protected under national and international free expression guarantees. This climate is clearly at odds with, and a threat to, the emergence of stronger, more diverse and more accountable democratic institutions in Turkey.
PEN International therefore requests that the government of Turkey take the following actions:
• Undertake an immediate review of all cases of writers, publishers and journalists to ensure that none is being penalized for the legitimate practice of his or her right to peaceful freedom of expression and association.
• Release all those currently detained, imprisoned or facing prosecution in violation of their right to freedom of expression.
• Reform the Anti-Terror Law to protect freedom of expression, especially Articles 6 and 7, which are often misused to prosecute writers, publishers and journalists. The Act remains the most serious threat to freedom of expression in Turkey.
• Revise the Penal Code Articles that have been used to launch court cases over legitimate political comment or speech.
• Ensure that changes to both the Anti-Terror Law and the Penal Code make “a clear distinction between incitement to violence and the expression of non-violent ideas,” as recently suggested by the European Commission.
• Revise the Law on the Internet, which limits freedom of expression and restricts citizens’ right to access to information, again as recently suggested by the European Commission.
• Improve on the reforms of the Third Judicial Reform Package by eliminating unnecessary pre-trial detention and debilitating lengthy trials; introduce stringent means of vetting cases before trial so that weak indictments are not used to imprison, harass or intimidate writers, publishers and journalists.