NEW YORK—The shuttering of media outlets and arrests of journalists over the past several days signal a dramatic worsening of the already-restricted environment for free expression, PEN America said today.
On October 29, 2016, the Turkish government issued two statutory decrees, formally closing more than 15 media outlets, among them 10 newspapers, including Azadiya Welat and Özgür Gündem, key Kurdish-language dailies. On October 31, police raided the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet’s Istanbul office and detained 12 of its employees, including the editor in chief, and issued warrants for two additional staff in absentia. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office released a statement saying that the detainees were suspected of aiding terrorists, but did not provide any evidence to support this claim. 
Cumhuriyet is one of Turkey’s leading independent newspapers, winning several awards in recent years for its coverage of sensitive issues in an increasingly punitive environment for free expression.
“The media closures and arrests of Cumhuriyet staff mark a new low for free expression in Turkey,” noted Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Oppositional or critical journalism is not terrorism. We call on authorities to cease their suppression of alternative viewpoints, release dozens of writers currently in jail, and allow the Turkish people to have access to a wide variety of news and information.”
Media freedom and broader freedom of expression in Turkey have deteriorated at an alarming rate since the attempted coup in July. According to The New York Times, since July 15 more than 40,000 people have been detained or arrested. Of those detained, more than 130 are journalists and writers, making Turkey the largest jailer of journalists in the world. Among them are Asli Erdoğan, a renowned novelist, human rights activist, and columnist and board member for Özgür Gündem, who was detained by Istanbul police on August 16, 2016. Translator Necmiye Alpay, also on the board of Özgür Gündem, was arrested on August 31 and remains in jail. Prominent writer Ahmet Altan and his brother, academic Mehmet Altan, were detained on September 10 and also remain incarcerated.
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.
Karin Deutsch Karlekar:, +1 (646) 779.4822
Sarah Edkins:, +1 (646) 779.4830