PEN protests U.S. treatment of Turkish rights champion
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, NY, October 22, 2002–PEN American Center and PEN USA West, the two U.S.-based centers of International PEN, today released copies of a letter they have sent to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft demanding that the State Department re-issue a visa to Haluk Gerger, a prominent Turkish writer and human rights activist who was denied entry by immigration officials at Newark International Airport on October 1, 2002. In releasing the letter, representatives of both centers of the global writers’ association called the action a troubling example of how aspects of post-9/11 anti-terror legislation appear to undercut positions and values the U.S. has long advanced overseas. PEN also expressed fears that new visa restrictions may affect the free movement of peoples and ideas at a time when open international exchanges are critical to the success of U.S. policy initiatives.
Haluk Gerger is a respected writer and political scientist who was imprisoned twice in Turkey in the 1990s for articles relating to the armed conflict with Turkey’s Kurdish minority. In 1994 and 1995, the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights country reports cited the jailing of Professor Haluk Gerger as an example of how the Turkish government has misused Anti-Terror laws to violate the free speech rights of writers, journalists, publishers, academics, and students. In 1999, with Professor Gerger again under indictment and facing additional jail terms, the United States offered an even more concrete kind of solidarity, issuing Gerger a 10-year visa. But this month, when Gerger and his wife landed at Newark airport for a U.S. visit, he was informed that his visa had been cancelled by the State Department. He was photographed and fingerprinted, and the couple was forced to return to Europe.
In their joint letter to the Secretary of State and the Attorney General (attached), PEN American Center and PEN USA West note that prior to September 11, 2001, the United States consistently protested the jailing of writers and journalists under anti-terror laws in Turkey and actively sought to preserve their right to seek, receive, and impart information – including their right to travel to the United States. Warning that withdrawing such support could weaken U.S. efforts to promote democratization and human rights around the world, PEN requests a review of the decision to deny Professor Gerger entry into the U.S. and an immediate reinstatement of his visa.
“If we allow the Turkish government to brand Haluk Gerger a terrorist because he has exercised his rights of free expression, then the word “terrorist” has been deprived of all meaning,” said K. Anthony Appiah, Chair of the Freedom to Write Committee of PEN American Center. “Surely what we need now, above all, is to strengthen the hands of the friends of human rights around the world, not to join with those who would persecute them.”
Aimee Liu, President of PEN USA West, agreed. “Professor Gerger has put not only his professional reputation but his life in jeopardy for championing freedom of speech. The U.S. government’s humiliation of the Gergers is inexplicable and shameful,” she said.
PEN American Center and PEN USA West are two of the largest in a global network of 131 centers around the world that make up International PEN. PEN’s mission is to promote literature and protect free expression whenever writers or their work are threatened. Internationally, PEN defends writers from censorship, harassment, and imprisonment, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, in the United States PEN defends the First Amendment and protects free speech through sign-on letter campaigns, direct appeals to policy makers, participation in lawsuits and intervention in legal cases, awards for First Amendment defenders, and public events.
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105