(New York, NY) — An October 29 raid on the Idil Cultural Center, home to the Turkish music collective Grup Yorum, reportedly resulted in the arrests of 93 people. The arrests include Ali Aracı, a flute player who had recently been released after spending more than a year in prison, as well as the band’s lawyers, background singers, and a number of other soloists and musicians. PEN America condemns these detentions and said today that the raid is part of a glaring effort by Turkish government to silence outspoken artists.

“These arrests are yet another demonstration that freedom of expression does not exist for Turkish musicians whose lyrics criticize the government,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The government’s campaign of repression has already claimed the lives of two Grup Yorum band members this year, who died protesting their conditions—yet the authorities seem to have learned nothing from these tragedies. We call on the Turkish government to immediately release the scores of Grup Yorum-affiliated individuals unjustly detained for making music, and to cease their targeted harassment of the band.”

Grup Yorum, whose protest songs are often critical of Turkish authorities and advocate for Kurdish rights, have been subjected to harassment and imprisonment since their inception in the 1980s. The Idil Cultural Center has been raided at least ten times in the past two years—including a raid that occurred a day earlier, on October 28, that also resulted in arrests. Members of the collective are consistently imprisoned. Earlier this year, Grup Yorum members Helin Bölek and İbrahim Gökçek died during hunger strikes after being imprisoned on charges similar to those Aracı was originally sentenced under.

Grup Yorum’s persecution is not isolated. In recent years, the Turkish authorities have increasingly targeted those who use artistic expression to criticize the government or advocate for Kurdish rights. In July, arts philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala spent his 1000th day in prison for baseless charges related to espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, likely stemming from his efforts to foster dialogue between Turkish and Kurdish people. That same month, prosecutors reopened a case against writer Asli Erdoğan, who now faces renewed charges of sedition, membership of a terrorist organization, and use of propaganda for her work with Özgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper, despite having been acquitted of those charges in February.

PEN America’s inaugural Freedom to Write Index found that Turkey imprisoned or detained 30 writers and intellectuals during 2019, the third highest of any country in the world.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you would like to learn more about Grup Yorum, please read ARC’s profile of the band. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.