Leading writers from Turkey and around the world, including Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk and Günter Gras, have expressed concerns regarding threats to free expression in Turkey, in an open letter published today (Friday 28th March).
The letter follows the recent publication of English PEN and PEN International’s report “The Gezi Park Protests: the Impact on Freedom of Expression in Turkey”, which documents allegations of human rights violations during last year’s protests and examines Turkish legislation concerning freedom of expression, assembly, and the press.
The letter calls on Turkish authorities “not to retreat from democracy and its keystone, freedom of speech; but rather to recognize their obligations under international treaties”. It also asks them to “remember that this beautiful country will be stronger and happier when, and if, it appreciates pluralism, diversity and the freedom of words.”
It also asks Turkish authorities to respect freedom of expression as a universal and fundamental human right and to create an environment in which all citizens are able to express themselves freely without fear of censorship or punishment.
In February 2014, the Turkish parliament passed a new internet law, giving Turkey’s telecommunications authority almost unlimited power in tightening its control over the internet. Last week, it announced a blanket ban of the social media platform Twitter to Turkey’s 36 million users ahead of local elections on 30th March. There are also reports that YouTube has now been blocked in Turkey.
Turkish author and former PEN Writers in Prison Committee main case, Elif Shafak, commented: “Turkey's politicians need to understand that democracy is not solely about getting a majority of votes in the ballot box. Far beyond that, democracy is a culture of inclusiveness, openness, human rights and freedom of speech, for each and every one, regardless of whichever party they might have voted for. It is the realization of the very core of democracy that is lacking in today’s Turkey”.
PEN has a history of supporting writers at risk and campaigning for the protection of freedom of expression in Turkey.
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