PEN International is deeply concerned that as this year closes, 30 writers are held in Turkish prisons, more than 70 others are on trial, and 25 more were arrested in recent days. This, alongside increasing surveillance, has had a chilling effect on writers and raises concerns for the coming year. PEN calls for a halt to the arrests, and the release of writers and journalists who are detained for the legitimate practice of their right to free expression, a right to which Turkey is committed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Background Information

PEN has on its records 30 cases of writers in prison in Turkey, and over 70 more on trial. On December 20, a further 20 to 25 journalists were arrested. The most widely used legislation in these cases is the Anti-Terror Law (ATL), a law that is applied so broadly that crimes of membership or support of “illegal organizations” encompass a wide spread of commentary ranging from writings on Kurdish issues to allegations of inappropriate links between the police and religious figures. Over the past year, Turkish writers, publishers, and journalists have told PEN that surveillance has markedly risen. This, accompanied by the escalating arrests, has increased anxiety and is having a chilling effect on free expression.
Among the detainees is the well-known publisher Ragip Zarakolu who has campaigned for free expression for decades. He was arrested on October 28 and is facing trial under the ATL for “membership of an illegal organization,” reportedly for articles he has written and for a speech he made to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Taken to prison the same day on similar charges is the respected academic and writer Busra Erslani. She is an expert on constitutional law and had been working with the BDP’s Constitutional Commission at the time of her arrest. Zarakolu’s son, Deniz, also an academic and translator, was arrested three weeks earlier for similar reasons.
Zarakolu and Ersanli were arrested under what is known as the Democratic Society Congress (Koma Civaken Kurdistan - KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009 and which has led to several hundred, some say over 1,000, arrests and trials. The KCK is seen as the civil/political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).  Among the organizations being linked to the KCK is the BDP, despite the fact that 30 of its representatives took their seats in the Turkish parliament on October 1. Among the early KCK operation arrests was Muharrem Erbey, a lawyer and writer arrested in December 2009 who is still detained, one example of the extremely lengthy pre-trial detentions. On December 20, there were further arrests under the KCK operation that included around 20 to 25 journalists who were taken from their homes in various cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Diyarbakir. All are journalists working for various pro-Kurdish newspapers and agencies. It is not clear how many remain detained today, December 22.
Other high profile writers in prison include Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, arrested on March 6, 2011, for being members of Ergenekon, a neo-nationalist organization. Since June 2007 there have been a series of arrests of leading figures in the military, politics and police force, as well as writers, academics and journalists. Currently, those accused of membership in Ergenekon number over 200. Ergenekon’s aim is said to be to overthrow the government and it is linked to several assassinations. Şener and Şık are detained for their research into and writings about Ergenekon. Şener’s book, Fetullah Gülen and the Gülen Community in Ergenekon Documents is one of the sources of his charges. The Gülen movement is an Islamic organization that promotes inter-faith dialogue, and Şener has looked into suggestions that the movement holds undue influence over the Ergenekon investigation. Ahmet Şık has also written on Ergenekon and he too is said to have looked into the alleged affiliation of police to Gülen.
That two writers examining the Ergenekon investigation should find themselves on trial for being members of the group they are researching is absurd, a view shared by 125 Turkish writers who, in November 2011, publicly announced their support for Ahmet Şik by publishing in print his book that was seized from his computer files and banned. The writers had all played a role in editing the book, and are listed as co-editors and proof-readers, willingly making themselves targets for prosecution.
Writers are also among those arrested as Ergenekon suspects. One is Mustafa Balbay, a well-known contributor to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, an outspoken opponent of the government and secularist. He has been detained since July 2008 and remains in pre-trial detention three years later. Evidence against him is said to be notes he took during meetings with various figures who themselves were arrested during the Ergenekon investigations. Balbay is accused of being aware of plans to stage a coup. He denies these charges.
Zarakolu, Şık, Şener, Erbey and Balbay are all members of PEN Turkey.
There are more than 70 writers awaiting trial under numerous and diverse legislations. Among them are the publishers and translator of the Turkish edition of William Burrough’s Soft Machine; they currently face an obscenity trial. Also under way is the trial against the owners of another publishing house accused of defaming religion by producing a 2010 calendar featuring quotes from secular writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, and James Joyce.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing alarm about the rising numbers of writers and journalists in prison and on trial for the legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression;
  • Referring to Turkey’s commitments to Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which guarantee the right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling for an end to these arrests, the release of all writers and journalists held in prison, and an end to trials that contravene the right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging Turkish authorities to review all legislation that allows for the prosecution of writers and journalists, and to bring Turkey in line with its commitments under international human rights standards.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of JusticeMr Sadullah Ergin
06669 Kizilay
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370
Email: [email protected]

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Turkey in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after February 15, 2012: ftw [at]