NEW YORK—The detention of Osman Kavala, a prominent Turkish businessman, publisher, and patron of several civic organizations that promote open discourse and cultural exchange, is further evidence of the severe erosion of democratic principles in Turkey, PEN America said in a statement today. 

On October 18, Kavala was remanded into custody at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul upon returning from the southwestern city of Gaziantep, where he was discussing a cultural outreach project with Germany’s Goethe-Institut. Kavala was subsequently moved to the headquarters of the city’s counter-terrorism police, though authorities have yet to issue formal charges or provide a basis for his confinement. His detention is only the latest in a long series of arrests and covert legal actions against civil society actors made by Turkish authorities in the wake of the failed coup of July 15, 2016.

“Holding a citizen like Osman Kavala, who has used his standing in Turkish society to encourage peaceful artistic and cultural dialogue both within Turkey and in the larger European world, is indicative of a movement by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to not only silence direct political dissent, but also the supporters of the kinds of cultural institutions associated with free societies,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs . “We call on the Turkish authorities to cease their harassment of Kavala and to release him immediately.”

Kavala is best known in cultural circles for his work in creating Anadolu Kültür, a non-for-profit center bringing together individuals from the art world, business, and civil society to develop mutual understanding and overcome regional prejudices. Among their activities, Anadolu Kültür has fostered relationships between Turkish and Armenian artists, and has encouraged collaborative work as a means of developing reciprocal and lasting ties between the two communities. In addition, Kavala was an instrumental force in establishing İletişim Publishing, which strives to foster within its catalogue a number of young Turkish authors.  He has also served on a number of cultural and environmental boards, including TURSAK (Turkish Audiovisual Cinema Foundation), TEMA (Foundation to Fight Soil Erosion), and the Thessaloniki-based Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe. 


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.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected], +1.646.981.0685