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IFEX members call for Turkish translator, women's rights activist to be freed

Ayşe Berktay in Bakırköy Women’s Prison.
Ayşe Berktay in Bakırköy Women’s Prison.

Ali Berktay/PEN American Center

The following letter was initiated by PEN American Center and has been signed by over two dozen IFEX members. It calls for freedom for those imprisoned in Turkey for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including prominent translator and cultural and women's rights activist Ayşe Berktay:

Mr. Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

1 May 2013

Your Excellency,

We are writing to protest the continued imprisonment of journalists, writers and academics in Turkey, including prominent translator and cultural and women's rights activist Ayşe Berktay, winner of the 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. We believe she is just one of many who have been persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Police arrested Berktay and raided her home on 3 October 2011, seizing personal papers and materials, though no arrest or search warrant had been issued. She was eventually charged under the Anti Terror Law with “membership of an illegal organisation” for allegedly “planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilising the state, plotting to encourage women to throw themselves under police vehicles so as to create a furor, and attending meetings outside Turkey on behalf of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK),” a banned pro-Kurdish party. The indictment specifically refers to international conferences she attended, where she is accused of having served as the organisation's “international advocate.”

Berktay is a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a legal political party with 36 elected representatives in Turkey's Parliament. Berktay is currently being held in Bakirköy Women's Prison in Istanbul. Her trial is ongoing and she could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Anti-terrorism legislation has long been used by the authorities to justify the jailing of writers, publishers, journalists, academics, and politicians in Turkey. In November 2012, a PEN International delegation visited Ankara to express concern about the alarming rise in prosecutions of writers and journalists in the last two years, noting that 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.

While government officials, including Turkish President Abdullah Gül, acknowledged that the spike in trials of writers is casting a shadow over more positive trends in democratization and economic development in Turkey, prosecutions continue and new cases are being opened all the time - including one against nine Board Members of PEN Turkey, who could face charges under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prohibits insults to the Turkish Republic, Turkish ethnicity, and Turkish governmental institutions. The investigation relates to an official PEN Turkey protest of the trial of well-known composer Fazil Say for tweets that were allegedly “insulting to religion.” He has now been sentenced to 10 months in prison, now suspended.

However, just last week, dozens of people associated with the KCK, including journalists Ferhat Arslan, Zeynep Kuray and Sadık Topaloğlu, were released from prison pending trial. We ask that Ayşe Berktay be freed as well, along with others who have been imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory. We therefore call for Berktay's immediate and unconditional release, and for charges against those who exercise their right to free expression to be withdrawn.

Thank you for your consideration in this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

PEN American Center
PEN International
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom Forum
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Publishers Association
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Islands News Association
PEN Canada

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