Chief executives from leading publishing houses around the world, including Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House, Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster and Arnaud Nourry of Hachette Livre, have said they are "deeply concerned" about the closure of 29 publishing houses in Turkey and called on president Tayyip Erdogan to protect writers' freedom of expression.
The Turkish government shut down 29 publishers under state of emergency regulations last month in reaction to a failed coup in the country, according to the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA), which condemned the closures as "an assault on parliamentary democracy, the government and the people”.
PEN International Publishers Circle has now organised a petition against the crackdown, which urges the Turkish authorities to stop using state of emergency regulations to restrict "lawful freedom of expression".
Along with Dohle, Reidy and Nourry, it is signed by Iris Tupholme, v.p., executive publisher and editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Canada; c.e.o. Håkan Rudels of Bonnier Books and Per Almgren, c.e.o. of Natur & Kultur in Sweden; founder of independent Dutch publishers De Geus and World Editions Eric Visser, Jonathan Beck, director of publisher CH Beck in Germany and by Tom Harald Jenssen, chief executive of Norwegian publisher Cappelen Damm.
The publishing chiefs said: “The PEN International Publishers Circle is deeply concerned at the news that 29 publishing houses have been ordered closed since the failed coup in Turkey on 15th July 2016. According to our colleagues at the Turkish Publishers Association, the closure of these publishing houses 'carries the risk of human rights violations, the stifling of freedom of thought and expression and also irreparable financial and moral losses'.
"While recognising the right of the Turkish authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the failed coup, PEN International Publishers Circle call on the Turkish authorities not to use the state of emergency to restrict lawful freedom of expression and to ensure that writers and publishers are able to freely carry out their activities.”
All the closed publishers’ goods, assets, rights and documents were transferred to the Turkish treasury, without hope of appeal or the treasury being liable for any monies owed, according to the TPA. The knock-on effect is that secondary businesses, such as printing presses, bookbinders and distributors, will also face bankruptcy, while authors and translators will suffer too, it said.
Nourry told The Bookseller: "What could president Erdogan possibly be afraid of? Books? Opinions? Contrary opinions? Does Erdogan believe authors, let alone publishers, played a role in the failed coup? Or is he seizing on an opportunity to clamp down on what is left of freedom of expression in his country? Whatever the motivation, Turkey must at once rescind its gag order imposed on publishers if it still wants to be considered a democracy."
Now the PEN International Publishers Circle is calling on UK publishers and publishing organisations to join them.
Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International, said: "Along with a free press, the breadth and diversity of a country’s publishing scene is a mark of its tolerance and intellectual strength. PEN is increasingly alarmed at recent events in Turkey, as are our Publishers Circle who have made this statement for their Turkish colleagues. We hope many other publishers will pledge their support.”
Publishing houses have been asked to contact James Tennant, PEN International’s literature and partnerships manager, before end of day on Tuesday 23rd August if they are able to support the petition (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tennant added: "We're delighted that members of our Publishers Circle are raising their voice over what is happening in Turkey. At such times it’s vital the international community shows solidarity with our fellow publishers, editors and writers. We'd like as many publishing houses (and publishers’ associations) as possible to join their call."
The statement authored by the PEN International Publishers Circle - a group of publishers committed to promoting "free expression, literature and intellectual collaboration" - has been made available to view on PEN International's website here, and will be sent to the Turkish authorities and widely circulated by PEN Turkey.
The passionate defence of freedom of expression in Turkey comes at the same time as PEN Turkey is set to receive the Turkish Journalists’ Association’s (TGC) annual "Press Freedom Prize" in Istanbul this evening (18th August) for "the unique solidarity unparalleled in the past […] showed against the assaults on press freedom in Turkey, for efforts to bring to international platforms the violation of rights and for instilling in their Turkish colleagues the feeling that they are not alone".