(NEW YORK) – With the first round of voting in Turkish elections concluded and ahead of an expected runoff May 28, PEN America calls on Turkish authorities to release all individuals detained for their writing or peaceful expression, allow journalists to report freely and ensure that individuals can access the internet and use social media platforms freely. Additionally, PEN America calls on candidates contesting the election to pledge to support free expression, particularly for the country’s Kurdish, LGBTQ+, and refugee communities.

Turkish elections are expected to progress to a runoff round May 28, after neither incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan nor opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu met the 50 percent threshold necessary to win the first round outright. Ahead of the elections, Twitter announced that it would restrict access to unspecified content in Türkiye, and several media outlets were also reportedly targeted with cyberattacks. Turkish authorities also arrested several Kurdish journalists and media workers ahead of the elections, and today, May 16, a Turkish court is expected to hold the first hearing for several other journalists working for Kurdish media who were arrested in October 2022.

“Free expression in Türkiye is at a critical juncture, and the runoff elections on May 28 could determine whether the freedom to write effectively disappears from the country’s civil landscape, or if the government moves to release imprisoned writers and roll back repressive laws. Turkish authorities should ensure that everyone in the country has the ability to access and share information freely, and all candidates contesting the election should pledge to release those imprisoned for their free expression and to not silence vulnerable communities by scapegoating them,” PEN America’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Lead Justin Shilad said.

At least 15 people were behind bars in Türkiye in 2022 because of the writing, according to PEN America’s 2022 Freedom to Write Index. PEN America’s concerns over freedom of expression during and after Turkish elections are heightened by the Turkish government’s passage of a disinformation law in October 2022 and the subsequent arrests of journalists reporting critically in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake last February 6, as well as authorities’ attempts to block access to social media services. 

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. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057