(New York, NY) — Turkish prosecutors this week have reopened a spurious case against writer Asli Erdoğan. She 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 that the Turkish government shuttered in 2016. PEN America today called for an end to the politically-motivated harassment of Erdoğan and condemned the unjust nature of the appeal. 

“This unlawful appeal and the continued judicial harassment of Asli Erdoğan are proof of the arbitrary nature of the Turkish judicial system,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. “Erdoğan is just one of many writers, artists, and cultural rights defenders who have been punished by the Turkish government for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and telling the truth about the harsh injustices committed by those in power. This abhorrent and illegal appeals process must be dropped immediately. Erdoğan must be freed from this inexcusable cycle of censorship and criminalization.”

Erdoğan’s acquittal is being challenged by a public prosecutor unrelated to her case in a secondary appeals court (Istinaf Mahkemesi) in Istanbul. These courts were formed after the attempted military coup against President Reccep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP-led government in 2016, and function as a “second degree” judicial system. They have served as a means of silencing dissent in the country, as in the case of a group of Cumhuriyet journalists convicted last year. If the court hands down a sentence of less than five years, defendants cannot appeal the ruling. Erdoğan’s counsel is waiting on the court’s decision to determine whether they will be able to appeal.

As a columnist for Özgür Gündem, Erdoğan wrote on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey and the Turkish army’s brutal methods in the Kurdish-dominated southeast. After speaking out on these issues, she was originally arrested in August 2016—along with many of the newspaper’s other employees—for allegedly being a member of a terrorist organization and for disrupting the unity of the state, and spent 136 days in pre-trial detention. After a series of hearings in early 2020, Erdoğan was acquitted. Although the official deadline for filing an appeal is one week, her case has been reopened four months later. 

In the wake of the coup attempt in July 2016, freedom of expression and the press in the country has been severely restricted, with over 180 news outlets shut down and dozens of writers and journalists jailed or facing spurious charges. The initial arrest of Erdoğan and her peers sparked an international outcry against Turkey’s crackdown on free expression, especially against those speaking out about Kurdish issues. In August 2016, PEN America initiated a petition to the Turkish president demanding an end to attacks on writers, and in October the PEN America Translation Committee petitioned again on behalf of Necmiye Alpay and all those charged in the Özgür Gündem case, including Asli Erdoğan. PEN America’s recently released inaugural Freedom to Write Index found that Turkey had imprisoned or detained the third-most writers of any country in the world in 2019. 

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 or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.