PEN International condemns investigation against PEN Turkey for criticising the State

11 January 2013 / MESOP – PEN International strongly condemns the investigation launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office today against the PEN Turkey Board for insult the State under the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The investigation is being made as a result of an article posted on PEN Turkey ’s website on 3 June 2012 protesting the trial of composer and writer Fazil Say, who is charged with insulting ‘religious values’ on social media. His trial is currently under way. The article in question refers to “fascist developments” in Turkey . Article 301 makes it illegal to insult the Turkish Republic, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish government institutions.

On 25 December 2012, a police officer visited PEN Turkey offices in Istanbul and demanded the contact details of all the Centre’s board members. If the investigation is granted approval from the Justice Minister, PEN Turkey’s President Tarýk Günersel, Vice-President Halil Ýbrahim Özcan, General Secretary Sabri Kuþkonmaz, International Relations Secretary Ahmet Erözenci, Treasurer Tülin Dursun, board members Zeynep Oral and Mario Levi, as well as poet and critic Nihat Ateþ (who uploaded the content to the PEN website) will join scores of writers who have been brought before the courts under a law that is entirely at odds with the principle of freedom of expression and one that is widely condemned both in Turkey and around the world.

John Ralston Saul, PEN International president said: ‘‘This extraordinary attack is aimed at the entire Board of Directors of PEN Turkey, elected by their colleagues around the country. What is more, this charge is a misuse of a law which, in the context of international freedom of expression standards, itself should not exist. The President of PEN Turkey was an official member of the recent PEN International Delegation to Turkey which raised its concerns regarding the state of freedom of expression during meetings with both the head of state Abdullah Gül and the minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Baðýþ. ‘

In an official statement submitted to the court the board of Turkish PEN said: ‘As a result of an announcement constituting support for Fazýl Say that we gave as the PEN Board on 3 June [2012], we were called to the prosecutor’s office to submit an official statement under Article 301. On 10 January 2013, we submitted an offficial statement. In the announcement that is the subject of the complaint, we said the following:

As the Turkey Centre of the international writers association PEN, we strongly condemn and meet with consternation the [news] that our esteemed composer and pianist Fazýl Say has been called up to court. The international community has been put on alert in the face of fascist developments in Turkey.

In the official statement we submitted as the board, we outlined that the above words were an expression of thought and a criticism, that they were not intended as being aimed as an insult. We emphasised that the right to criticise, a constitutional and legal right, was being exercised. As a result, it was requested that a decision not to prosecute would be given.’

PEN International strongly condemns this violation against freedom of expression and calls on the Turkish government to terminate without delay any prosecutions currently under way against PEN Turkey and to abolish Article 301 in its entirety.