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PEN International calls for support of writers on trial in Turkey

UPDATE: PEN International reports that writers Deniz Zarakolu and Ayşe Berktay have been ordered held for two more years in pre-trial detention. Click here to see updates on how to take action to call for them to be freed, like others being tried in the same cases.

Scores of writers and journalists in Turkey are in prison, whilst many more are on trial. PEN members worldwide have become increasingly concerned about what is happening to our fellow writers and restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey.

In September 2013, some of the most prominent of these writers faced further trials as part of the Koma Civakên Kurdistan (Group of Communities in Kurdistan) (KCK) case. Some of them have been detained for almost four years pending trial, and all are facing long prison terms if they are convicted.

Respect for freedom of expression, and the right to meet peacefully to debate and exchange ideas is clearly not a high priority for the government in Turkey. This became even more apparent during the protests earlier this year following the forced dismantlement of the "Occupy Gezi" site in Istanbul's Taksim Square, which spread to cities across Turkey. Meanwhile, the exceptionally heavy sentences meted out in the Ergenekon case in early August 2013 has led to further concern about the fairness of trial conditions in Turkey, concerns that are also present in the KCK trial.

PEN Centres are being asked to take action for writers who faced hearings in September 2013. This paper provides an outline of the trials and suggestions for action.

TAKE ACTION

PEN Centres are asked to take part in some of the activities below during September 2013. The suggested activities can be carried out by both large and small Centres. You should select activities that suit your capacity and resources. Please keep us informed of any actions you take in regard to these cases, including any responses from the Turkish authorities. Please let us know of any activities you take. Email: [email protected]

TRIAL DATES

9 – 20 September
KCK Academies Hearing
PEN Cases: Busra Ersanli, Deniz and Ragip Zarakolu, Ayse Berktay and Mulazim Ozcan, Silivri, Istanbul

16 September
KCK Diyabakir
PEN Case: Muharrem Erbey Diyabakir

25 to 27 September
KCK Press Wing
Includes PEN case: Zeyneb Kuray Silivri, Istanbul

Letters of appeal

Letters of appeal should be sent while the September trial hearings are under way between 9 and 27 September. An update on those trial outcomes will be issued with guidance for action on further hearings.

Send letters of appeal to the Turkish authorities urging that they:

  • 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 solely for the peaceful exercise 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.

Appeals to

Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Ankara
Turkey
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370
Email: [email protected]

Press coverage

Write articles or letters for your local and national media, and for your own blogs and websites, to help raise awareness of these cases.

Social media

For Centres active on social media, please share information about these trials with your contacts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

  • For those of you using Twitter, please use the hashtag #pentrialmonitor so that we are able to track social media coverage more easily.

Trial observation

PEN Turkey and Kurdish PEN will be sending observers to the KCK trials. If your Centre is considering attending, please contact [email protected] for guidance.

Follow up

A review and update of the trials will be sent to Centres with ideas for future actions.

Background

In November 2012, a PEN International delegation met with President Abdullah Gül to raise concerns about the large numbers of writers and journalists imprisoned and on trial in Turkey. During the meeting, President Gül acknowledged that the poor state of free expression 'cast a shadow' in Turkey. He made a commitment that the situation would be resolved and that the issue would 'no longer [be] on the country's agenda'.

Despite these promises, and recent judicial reforms, the number of literary professionals in prison and on trial in Turkey remains stubbornly high. PEN International's records show around 65 writers and journalists in prison, and more than 70 more on trial. The continuing suppression of the media and social networks, as well as the attacks on journalists seen during the ongoing protests, belies a deep reluctance towards real change.

On 9 September 2013, as writers from around the world gather at the 79th World Congress of PEN International, yet another trial hearing will open against over 200 defendants, including five writers of particular concern to PEN. Detained in October 2011, academic, translator and writer Ayşe Berktay and author, translator and PhD candidate Deniz Zarakolu have now spent almost two years behind bars charged with 'membership of an illegal organisation'. Meanwhile Deniz Zarakolu's father, prominent free expression activist and publisher Ragip Zarakolu, academic Büşra Ersanlı, and Kurdish language expert and poet Mulazim Özcan have all been released pending trial, but could nevertheless face lengthy sentences if found guilty as charged.

These writers and their co-defendants are among thousands of people believed to be on trial in Turkey as part of the ongoing investigation into the Koma Civakên Kurdistan (Group of Communities in Kurdistan) (KCK) an alleged umbrella organisation for groups with links to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and a number of other trial hearings are also scheduled to take place in September.

Among those due to face trial is human rights lawyer, writer and PEN Turkey member Muharrem Erbey who was arrested in December 2009 in Diyarbakır, south eastern Turkey. More than three and a half years later, he remains in prison awaiting trial. PEN is gravely concerned that the charges against Muharrem Erbey are politically motivated, and that he is being held because of his alleged affiliation with Kurdish political parties. His trial re-opens on 16 September.

The next hearing of more than 40 journalists dubbed the KCK 'press wing', many of whom remain in pre-trial detention, is also expected to begin on 25 September. PEN fears that the journalists, all of whom work for left-wing or pro-Kurdish news organisations, are being penalised for their legitimate coverage of the Kurdish issue. Among them is investigative journalist Zeyneb Ceren Kuray, who was released pending trial in April 2013, following a PEN campaign on her behalf.

All of these writers are charged under Turkey's anti-terror legislation, yet it is clear that many among the defendants are accused only for their engagement in debates on Kurdish issues, taking part in meetings and other activities that do not promote violence. These and other cases are examples of the application of anti-terror laws against writers who focus on issues ranging from Kurdish rights to official corruption to critiques of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The trial processes, more often than not taking years to complete, are lengthy and bewildering in their complexity, adding to the concerns that terror laws are being used to penalise legitimate commentary on issues that are challenging to those in power.

PEN believes that the charges against these seven writers are in violation of their right to freedom of expression and association, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Turkey has ratified, and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory. We are therefore calling for their immediate and unconditional release. PEN also calls for the release pending completion of the trials of all other writers and journalists held in the KCK case, and for assurances that none are being tried in contravention of their rights.

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