NEW YORK—The arrest and trial of filmmakers Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, accused of producing propaganda, is a violation of their free expression and artistic rights and yet another example of the Turkish government’s desire to subvert the judicial process, PEN America said in a statement today.

Filmmakers Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu have been charged with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” with their documentary film “Bakur(North), and face up to five years’ imprisonment. Ertuğrul Mavioğlu appeared before court on February 5, 2018 to give his deposition, only to hear after hours of waiting that the judge did not have the correct indictment. Çayan Demirel was scheduled to appear before court on February 8, 2018, but decided against it, given his difficult health condition after a heart attack. Both filmmakers will have to wait until May 29 to defend their case during their next rescheduled hearing.

“Bakur” was filmed during the brief peace process between Turkey and the PKK. Hours before its premiere at the 34th International Istanbul Film Festival in May 2015, “Bakur” was banned from screening by the festival committee on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, purportedly because the film lacked an official registration certificate, even though films without a certificate has been screened previously.

“The campaign of intimidation against Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and the criminalization of their work is an egregious violation of human rights,” said Julie Trebault, PEN America Director of Artists at Risk Connection (ARC). “This just another example of the Turkish government’s desire to subvert the judicial process and limit freedom of expression. PEN America calls on the Turkish authorities to drop the charges against Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, and cease the widespread persecution of prominent artists and thinkers in Turkey.”

This case against Demirel and Mavioğlu marks the first time in Turkey’s recent history that a severe penalty might be imposed on filmmakers for their work, possibly endangering the future of cinema and documentary film in Turkey. Artistic freedom and broader freedom of expression in Turkey have deteriorated at an alarming rate since the alleged coup attempt and the implementation of the State of Emergency in 2016. Alongside a purging of academics and teachers, dozens of journalists, writers, and activists have been arrested, and more than 180 news outlets have been shut down by presidential decree. PEN America is dedicated to supporting and protecting Turkish artists at risk, such as journalist and artist Zehra Doğan, civil society actors Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, and journalist Ahmet Şik

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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. pen.org 

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Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org, 646-981-0685