Turkey’s Imprisoned Writers
Article 301, Anti-Terror Law, and the incarcerated in Turkey.
PEN International, along with many other institutions and individuals, is routinely concerned with imprisoned writers around the world. Every November 15, otherwise known as the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, marks a day when we might all turn our attention to such writers and their situations. This year nearly 800 writers, poets, journalists, translators, and editors are currently in prison. Around one tenth of them are in Turkey.
On November 15 the Publishers’ Association of Turkey (Türkiye Yayıncılar Birliği), the Writers’ Syndicate of Turkey (Türkiye Yazarlar Sendikası) and the PEN Turkey Center (PEN Türkiye Merkezi) held a joint press conference in which they invited Erdoğan’s AK Party government to abolish the Anti-Terror Law, which has been widely misused, and Article 301, which has often been used to condemn intellectuals and publications with a critical stand.
- Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
- Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
- Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
- Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
- Tarık Günersel is a poet, playwright, aphorist, librettist and short story writer. He is the president of PEN Turkey and an ex-member of the PEN International Board. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English. A dramaturg at Istanbul City Theater since 1991, he has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’? His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. He has recently initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.
A brief account of the situation in Turkey:
Necati Abay, the spokesperson for the Platform for Solidarity with Imprisoned Journalists (TGDP), is now in exile in Germany after having been sentenced to 18 years in prison for being a “terrorist organization leader.”
Feminist sociologist, human rights activist, and PEN member Pınar Selek has been accused of planting a bomb that led to seven deaths in 1998. Although she’s been acquitted three times, she is sentenced to life in prison and currently lives in exile in France. During Selek’s initial trial, several experts testified that what had caused the explosion in question was actually a gas leak, not a bomb.
Some other imprisoned writers, journalists, editors, and translators, like Necati Abay, have been accused of terrorism or belonging to terrorist organizations. Some of them are still on trial, some have been sentenced. Their names are below:
Ayşe Berktay (winner of PEN America Freedom of Expression Award; detained for 2 years now, without conviction)
Cihan Deniz Zarakolu (Publisher Ragıp Zarakolu’s son)
Doğu Perinçek (Leader of Workers’ Party, columnist for Aydınlık newspaper; life imprisonment)
Fatih Özgür Aydın
Hamit Duman (Dilbahar)
Hanefi Avcı (ex-chief of security, for his book Haliç’te Yaşayan Simonlar)
Mehmet Emin Yıldırım (Editor-in Chief of Azadiya Welat)
Merdan Yanardağ (PEN member, Editor-in-Chief of Yurt; 10 years)
Muharrem Erbey (PEN member, writer, lawyer, Human Rights activist; 4 years without conviction)
Mustafa Balbay (PEN member, elected Member of Parliament, Ankara Representative of Cumhuriyet (Republic) newspaper; sentenced to 34 years.)
Ömer Faruk Çalışkan
Salih İzzet Erdiş (Mirzaoğlu)
Tuncay Özkan (Journalist and writer; sentenced to life)
Turabi Kişin (Editor of Özgür Gündem newspaper)
Turhan Özlü (Editor-in-Chief of Ulusal Kanal TV )
Prof. Dr. Yalçın Küçük (Academic and author)
The list speaks for itself.
Not to mention the numerous ongoing court cases…
Democratization in Turkey? Alas! A new despotism with a religious accent. Referring to PM Erdoğan, I call it “Erdocracy.”