(New York, NY) — The reopening of a criminal investigation into Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk for writing in his latest novel Nights of Plague is an egregious attempt by Turkish authorities to silence writers, PEN America said today. 

“The prosecution’s persistent effort to criminalize the literary work of Orhan Pamuk, a world-renowned author, is deeply concerning and underscores the urgent need to defend creative expression and writers in Turkey,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “Pamuk’s writing has had a profound impact on the literary world, yet his reputation for having courageous and uncompromising politics has made him a target of the Turkish government’s ongoing and systematic effort to silence dissident voices. While they should never have had legal standing, these baseless accusations about Pamuk’s latest novel have already been dismissed in court. The reopening of the investigation, despite the lack of evidence and initial court decision not to prosecute the case, points to the overall climate of repression against writers in Turkey and demonstrates how the legal system enables appalling authoritarian restrictions on free expression and creativity. We call on the Turkish government to drop all charges against Orhan Pamuk, and to end the unjust persecution of writers throughout Turkey for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.” 

A novelist widely recognized as one of Turkey’s most prolific writers, Pamuk is the author of four acclaimed novels and several nonfiction works. He is being investigated for content in his latest book Nights of Plague, a historical novel set on a fictional Ottoman island in the early 1900s amid an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Accused of insulting the Turkish flag and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father and first president of the Republic of Turkey, Pamuk was previously investigated on these same charges in April 2021, but an Istanbul court dismissed the case due to lack of evidence, resulting in a non-prosecution. The Criminal Judgeship of Peace reopened the investigation in November following an appeal by lawyer Tarcan Ülük, who lodged the initial complaint. In 2005, Pamuk was the target of a similar legal prosecution under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for allegedly “insulting Turkishness” in a comment published in a Swiss newspaper earlier that year.

Law 5816 of the Turkish Penal Code penalizes insults against the memory of Atatürk and carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. The criminal investigation into Pamuk’s writing is a familiar tactic commonly used to silence dissident voices in Turkey, as in the case of Ahmet Altan, who was convicted in 2019 for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Osman Kavala, who has remained unjustly held in pre-trial detention for nearly four years. During 2020, the Turkish government jailed at least 25 writers for exercising their right to free expression, the third-highest number of writers and public intellectuals globally, according to PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index. In June 2021, PEN America published Cracking Down on Creative Voices, a report examining the Turkish government’s repression of writers and intellectuals in the years following the 2016 coup attempt.