(NEW YORK)– In response to today’s news that cultural rights activist Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison on politically-motivated charges of “attempting to overthrow the government,” Liesl Gerntholtz, Director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, made the following statement:

“Today is a dark moment for Turkey. The life sentence handed down to Osman Kavala is a devastating and unjust blow, not only to him and his family, but to freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey. Kavala’s case is a blatant attempt to criminalize free expression and use the courts to retaliate against those who dare to criticize the government. This egregious sentence is a death knell for Turkey’s democracy.”

Kavala, a cultural rights activist, is a founder of the arts organization Anadolu Kültür, and several publishing houses, including İletişim Yayınları and Ana Publishing. Kavala was initially arrested on October 18, 2017 and detained in Silivri prison, over a year after the July 2016 attempted coup, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used as a pretext for a broad crackdown on dissent in Turkish society. Authorities initially charged Kavala with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and the government of Turkey, by supposedly playing a role in the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests. On February 18, 2020, Kavala was acquitted, but the same day, an Istanbul prosecutor demanded Kavala be rearrested on new charges related to the attempted coup of July 2016 and re-detained him at Silivri prison. In January 2021, a Turkish court overturned the acquittal and continued the trial against Kavala.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2019 that his arrest and imprisonment were politically-motivated and has repeatedly called on Turkey to release Kavala. In December 2021, the Council of Europe voted to launch infringement proceedings against Turkey for ignoring their 2019 ruling demanding Kavala’s release, by which Turkish courts are bound per the country’s constitution. PEN America’s Freedom To Write Index found that in 2021, Turkey was the fifth-worst jailer of writers globally and Kavala is one of at least 18 writers and public intellectuals in prison in Turkey who have been targeted for their writing and free expression advocacy. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057