New York, NY, January 23, 2006—PEN, the international association of writers, welcomed the news today that Turkish prosecutors will not proceed with a court case against novelist Orhan Pamuk, but cautioned that more than a dozen other writers and publishers are still being prosecuted under the same insult law. PEN called for an end of those prosecutions as well and amendments to all laws that curtail freedom of expression by penalizing debate on taboo subjects in Turkey.

“We are relieved that Orhan Pamuk’s ordeal is over and he can turn his full attention once again to writing,” PEN American Center President Salman Rushdie said today. “But that, unfortunately, is not the end of the story. Other writers and publishers are currently in Turkish court on similar charges that clearly violate the right to freedom of expression.”

During the past 12 months, PEN has followed over 60 cases of writers, journalists, and publishers who were brought before courts or faced prosecution for their writings. Around 15 of these are currently facing charges similar to those levied against Orhan Pamuk.  Some recent notable cases include that of Hrant Dink, the editor of an Armenian magazine, who was accused of insult to the state; five journalists who were accused of “interfering” with the judiciary for their comments on attempts to ban a conference; and publisher Abdullah Yilmaz, who faces trial for issuing a Turkish edition of Greek writer Mara Meimaridi’s novel The Witches of Smyrna. Scenes in that book describing parts of the Turkish quarter of Izmir as dirty have triggered charges of “denigrating Turkish national identity.”

In the 1990s, hundreds of writers and journalists were sent to prison in Turkey, often for many years, in connection with their writings. Revisions in the penal code in recent years have resulted in fewer jail terms, but after a dip in prosecutions, judicial harassment has increased in the past year, and though none of the recent trials have ended in imprisonment, several writers and publishers have received fines and suspended sentences. The accused are tied down in trials that take months, even years to complete, and their prosecutions serve as a warning to anyone who dares to write on issues considered taboo. These range from comments on the mass killings of the Armenian population in the early 20th century and suggestions that the Turkish state and army have carried out human rights abuses to simply reporting frankly on the outcomes of particular trials.

“International solidarity and pressure clearly played a role in convincing Turkish authorities to abandon their misguided attempt to silence Orhan Pamuk,” Rushdie noted. “That same solidarity and pressure must be sustained until the cases against all who are on trial for what they have written or said are closed, and until the laws are further amended so that cases such as Pamuk’s become a thing of the past in Turkey.”

More Information:
“The Novelist Walks” on Slate
“Pamuk Victorious in Turkey” in Publishers Weekly
“Test for East and West”: Salman Rushdie on Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk in The New Yorker
The Paris Review interviews Orhan Pamuk

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