Open Letter: President Obama, Don’t Forget Free Speech in Turkey
On September 1st, PEN America joined with other concerned groups focused on free expression in publishing, in sending an open letter to President Obama. On the eve of Obama’s meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it is important that he underscore the need for strong protections on free expression–protections that have been undermined in Turkey by the Turkish government’s crackdown in the wake of an unsuccessful July coup attempt. The letter:
September 1, 2016
Hon. Barack Obama
The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President: The American book community is deeply troubled by the government’s suppression of free speech in Turkey in the weeks following the unsuccessful July 15 coup. Government censorship is the single most egregious threat to a democratic society, and we write to urge you to express your concern about these events at your meeting with President Erdoğan on Sunday.
According to a July 29 statement issued by the Turkish Publishers Association, three news agencies, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, and 15 magazines have been shut down by the Turkish government since July 15, and arrest warrants have been issued for more than 40 journalists as well as 47 newspaper employees.
The crackdown has hit book publishers hard. Twenty-nine publishing houses have been closed under a “State of Emergency Decree” that requires them to surrender to the government “all goods, assets, rights, documents and papers.” There is no appeal from the order.
The wholesale suppression of media outlets is having a devastating effect on public debate in Turkey, already weakened by government attacks on the media. The State of Emergency Decree makes it impossible for the closed publishing houses to request compensation for the debts they have incurred in the course of business, a situation that threatens the economic viability of the entire Turkish publishing community, further weakening the diversity of voices within Turkish society and deepening the chill on the expression of opinion in Turkey.
The United States opposed the July 15 coup attempt as a threat to a democratically elected government. We cannot allow the Turkish government to use that threat as a pretext for suppressing free speech and depriving Turkish citizens of other essential civil liberties. Sincerely,
Oren J Teicher
Chief Executive Officer
American Booksellers Association
President and Chief Executive Officer
Association of American Publishers
Office for Intellectual Freedom
Freedom to Read Foundation
American Library Association