October 12, 2011

Minister of Justice
Mr. Sadullah Ergin
06669 Kizilay
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the trials of publishers Irfan Sanci and Hasan Basri Çiplak, and translators Suha Sertabiboglu  and Funda Uncu.

According to our information, Irfan Sanci, owner of Sel Publishing House, and translator Suha Sertabiboglu face charges of obscenity under Article 266 of the Turkish Penal Code for publishing 2,500 copies of the Turkish edition of The Soft Machine by William Burroughs in 2010. An investigation by the Board for Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications found the book to be “not compatible with the morals of society and the people’s honor,” “injurious to sexuality” and “generally repugnant.” The latest hearing of the case began on October 11, 2011. The pair faces between six months and three years in prison if convicted.

Irfan Sanci has been tried on similar charges in the past, notably last year when he was acquitted for his publication of the Turkish translation of Apollinaire’s The Adventures of a Young Don Juan. He was awarded the 2010 International Publisher’s Association Freedom Prize.

In another case, Hasan Basri Çiplak, owner of Ayrinti Publishing House, and Funda Uncu, another translator, were also charged in September 2011 under Article 266, this time for the Turkish edition of Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff, a contemporary work satirizing the American pornography industry. The book was reviewed in May 2011 by the Board for Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications, which judged that there were grounds for indictment. Hasan Basri Çiplak was accused of releasing the book without warning and without precautions to ensure that children did not read it. Çiplak and Uncu also face between six months and three years in prison if convicted. The trial date for Çiplak and Uncu has yet to be set.

In her defense, Funda Uncu pointed out that Chuck Palahniuk is a world-renowned author and argued that the book is a critique of the “commoditization of women.” When the book was first seized in May 2011, Uncu said that police officers had come to where she was staying in Bodrum, southern Turkey, and threatened to take her to the police station by force if she did not come willingly. During her interrogation, she was asked whether she was ashamed of her work, and whether she related to the protagonist of the book, an actor in pornographic films.

Our colleague center, PEN Turkey, has protested the decision to press charges against the publishers of the book, and nominated Snuff as the Center’s Book of the Month in reaction to the accusation.

PEN American Center is concerned about the increase in the number of cases brought against publishing houses and translators of works initially published outside Turkey, and are especially concerned about the charges brought against Irfan Sanci, Suha Sertabiboglu, Hasan Basri Çiplak, and Funda Uncu. We therefore call for an end to all obscenity trials being brought against publishers and translators, and urge a review of Turkish legislation and the role of the Board for Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications to ensure that concerns about obscenity do not unnecessarily infringe upon creative freedom.
Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Namık Tan
Embassy of Turkey to the United States
2525 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 612-6744

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