Turkish President tells PEN free speech violations cast shadow over Turkey’s progress

ANKARA 13 NOVEMBER, 2012 (UPDATED 17.30) – In a meeting today with a PEN International delegation including English PEN director Jo Glanville, President Abdullah Gül expressed his personal commitment to free speech. Responding to PEN’s concerns over a rising number of writers, journalists and publishers in prison or on trial in Turkey, the president assured the delegation that he has been following the cases closely.

“There are many good things unfolding in Turkey, but these concerns cast a shadow over the progress we are achieving,” the president told PEN. “They also have international repercussions. These developments deeply sadden me, and as President, I more than anyone else want to see that they are resolved and no longer on the country’s agenda.”

Underlining the significant democratic progress in Turkey the last 10 years, President Gul continued:

“Thanks to these reforms, there has been a liberalization in the public sphere, and many issues which were formerly taboos are now freely discussed. Hand in hand, economic and democratic reforms have brought wealth and freedoms, and transformed Turkish society immensely. There may of course be some problematic practices, as in any democracy; however, I would not want any concerns to cast a shadow on this important accomplishment.”

The president added that such criticisms, when voiced without appreciation of reforms, become unfair.

The PEN delegation presented the president with an outline of PEN’s concerns, including key cases of writers, journalists, and publishers who are either in prison or on trial in Turkey. PEN requested that the government immediately review all such cases to ensure that no one is being penalized for the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful freedom of expression, and release all those currently detained, imprisoned, or facing prosecution in violation of this right.

The delegation conveyed to the president PEN’s specific concerns about Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law, which defines offenses too broadly and is applied inconsistently and often against those who have not supported, plotted, or carried out acts of terrorism or violence.

President Gül reiterated his belief that the best way to combat and isolate terrorism is to raise the standards of democracy, and argued that “terrorist groups are uneasy about democratic reforms in Turkey, and that they increase terrorist acts to undermine this process.”

“President Gül’s recognition of the negative impact of free speech violations on Turkey’s future is important. We were particularly encouraged by his personal commitment to freedom of expression and to the promotion of fundamental rights as the best, most effective tool against terrorism,” PEN International president John Ralston Saul said after the meeting. “As for our colleagues who are in prison in Turkey, we hope that today’s meeting will help speed their release.”

“This meeting will contribute to democratization in Turkey,” said Tarik Günersel, President of PEN Turkey and one of 20 representatives from around the PEN world who are in Turkey this week to raise PEN’s concerns. “President Gül understands and supports our concerns regarding freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey.”

The PEN International delegation is in Turkey for meetings with officials, politicians, members of the diplomatic community in Ankara, and with writers and publishers in Istanbul. On 15 November, the international delegation will join with our Turkish colleagues for a commemoration of PEN’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer. On 17-18 November, PEN will host panel discussions at the Istanbul Book Fair.

The delegation will hold a news conference in Istanbul on 15 November 2012 at 11:00 a.m. at Cezayir Restaurant, Hayriye Caddesi, Galatasaray, Beyoglu.
For more information, please contact English PEN Director Jo Glanville on +44 (0)7731 020 971