Rushdie, Rankin and Atwood pledge support to Turkey's imprisoned writers

Rushdie, Rankin and Atwood pledge support to Turkey's imprisoned writers

Over 100 writers have put their names to a message pledging solidarity with Turkey’s imprisoned writers and journalists and promising to "raise our global voice against any effort to silence yours".

Salman Rushdie, whose controversial work 1988 novel The Satanic Verses prompted a death warrant from Iran, is one of a number of high profile signatories to the letter organised by freedom of expression organisation PEN International, which also has attracted support from Nobel laureates Elfriede Jelinek, J.M Coetzee and Mario Vargas Llosa, and writers Ian Rankin, Elif Shafak, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen and Yann Martel.

Rankin and Shafak, alongside authors Tom Stoppard and Ali Smith, last January petitioned former prime minister David Cameron to raise the crisis facing freedom of expression in Turkey with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu when he visited London.

The unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression since July 2015's attempted coup against President Erdoğan, carried out under the state of emergency regulations, has seen at least 29 publishing houses closed. Soon after this, global publishing chiefs including Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House, Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster and Arnaud Nourry of Hachette Livre condemned the closures as "an assault on parliamentary democracy, the government and the people".

Mustafa Köz, writer at one of the closed publishing houses, Universal Publishing, and head of the Writers' Union, said at a recent press conference, reported by Turkish newspaper evrensel this week, the situation had become a "witch-hunt" in which "law and order has been left behind".

Now, some 150 writers and journalists are "languishing behind bars" and over 170 news outlets have shut, according PEN International, which claims Turkey has become the largest jailer of writers in the world.

One of Turkey’s most celebrated novelists, Aslı Erdoğan, was released from jail in December, along with 70-year-old translator Necmiye Alpay after months of pre-trial detention, but unsubstantiated criminal proceedings against them are still ongoing, the result of which could be life in jail. 

On the day of their release, award-winning investigative journalist and English PEN’s former writer-in-residence Ahmet Şık was also arrested at his home in Istanbul for making "terror propaganda"; among Şık's books is The Imam's Army about the Gülen movement.

Other persecuted writers cited in the letter are Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and the editor of its books supplement Turhan Günay, and novelist Ahmet Altan, who, published in the UK by Canongate, has been held on alleged terror charges since September.

The letter, which has been sent to all imprisoned Turkish journalists, says: "We are writing to you to let you know that you are not alone. We are writing to tell you that we will not stand idly by in your time of need. We will not be silent while your human rights are violated. We will raise our global voice against any effort to silence yours.

"PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members and supporters pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world.  

"A climate of free expression where the free exchange of ideas is facilitated fosters mutual understanding, transparency and accountability and ultimately enhances national security. Turkey must uphold its obligations to protect free expression and other human rights  and the writers of Turkey must be able to speak, to criticise, to protest, without fear of reprisals. Our word, our pens, our voices in your support is our continued pledge to you."

The message of solidarity, which can be read in full on PEN's website, was published as PEN International’s high-level mission to assess the situation for freedom of expression in Turkey ends. The mission, led by PEN International president Jennifer Clement and chairman of the Nobel Prize for Literature Per Wästberg, among others, met with writers, journalists, human rights defenders, civils society actors, as well as Minister of Culture Nabi Avcı, party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and MPs and political figures from across Turkey’s political landscape. The delegation also visited the offices of newspapers currently facing Turkey’s increasing clampdown: Cumhuriyet Daily, BirGün Daily, Agos daily, Evrensel daily and Özgürlükçü Demokrasi daily. 

Clement, PEN International president, said: "Freedom of expression is protected both by Turkey's constitution and by international law. President Erdoğan’s ongoing campaign to muzzle all dissident voices in Turkey must be met with resistance. That is why we are proud to be here today, figures from across PEN’s global community, standing in active and public solidarity with our friends and colleagues in Turkey."

PEN International Campaigns Manager Sahar Halaimzai added: "Today there are now more writers and journalists imprisoned in Turkey than China, Egypt and Eritrea combined. PEN’s message to our colleagues in Turkey and to the Turkish authorities is a simple one: our global community of writers and members will to resist any attempts to diminish or silence their voices."