New York City, February 1, 2012—Author and PEN American Center Member Paul Auster issued a statement today addressed to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that highlights the cases of Ragip Zarakolu and the scores of other writers and journalists currently in prison or on trial in Turkey. The statement comes a day after Erdogan called Auster “ignorant” for saying in an interview that he would not visit Turkey because of the many imprisoned journalists and writers in that country, and faulted him for attending a book fair in Israel in 2010.

Auster’s statement reads:

Whatever the Prime Minister might think about the state of Israel, the fact is that free speech exists there and no writers or journalists are in jail. According to the latest numbers gathered by International PEN, there are nearly one hundred writers imprisoned in Turkey, not to speak of independent publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu, whose case is being closely watched by PEN Centers around the world. All countries are flawed and beset by myriad problems, Mr. Prime Minister, including my United States, including your Turkey, and it is my firm conviction that in order to improve conditions in our countries, in every country, the freedom to speak and publish without censorship or the threat of imprisonment is a sacred right for all men and women.

The Turkish Prime Minister attacked Auster in a speech at a meeting of his Justice and Development Party in Istanbul yesterday, saying, “Author Paul Auster gave an interview to a Turkish newspaper recently. He said he will not come to Turkey as he finds it anti-democratic and because of arrested journalists. Oh! We were much in need of you! So what if you come or not?”

He added: “Will Turkey lose altitude if you don’t come?” Erdogan went on to criticize Auster for his 2010 visit to Israel, citing in particular Israeli military operations in Gaza.

In his speech, Erdogan called the fact that the main opposition party and some newspapers in Turkey share Auster’s views on the jailing of writers and journalists a “grave” matter, and blamed a “smear campaign” for mounting international scrutiny of the climate for freedom of expression in Turkey.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105