Challenge Turkey’s freedom of speech crackdown, writers urge Cameron

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan. © Kayhan Ozer / Presidential Palace Press Office
More than 20 leading writers and academics have written to British Prime Minister David Cameron, asking him to urge the Turkish government to end its crackdown on freedom of speech, as more Turkish writers are arrested.

The signatories, including Tom Stoppard, Ali Smith and Monica Ali, are part of the campaign led by writers’ associations English PEN, Wales PEN Cymru and Scottish PEN.

They are calling on the PM to ask his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu “to ensure that his government acts in accordance with Turkey’s obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression” during his visit to London next week.

Over the past five months, intimidation, threats and even physical assaults against journalists, writers and publishers have become the norm,” the letter states.

The writers also express concern for the editor-in-chief of newspaper Cumhuriyet and Ankara editor Erdem Gül who were arrested on charges of espionage and threats to national security on November 26.

We are appalled that both journalists may face a maximum life sentence for the charge of divulging state secrets, a sentence of 20 years for espionage, and 10 years for membership of a terrorist organization, for a story that the authorities appear to have accepted is true,” they write.

One signatory, Hari Kunzru, said the Turkish government’s action against writers had “revealed a deeply authoritarian streak.”

“Absurd cases like the public health official prosecuted for a Facebook post comparing Erdogan to Gollum [a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings’] show a kind of sensitivity and vanity that suggests an incipient cult of personality.”

The group highlights numerous cases of intimidation, raids and arrests of journalists, including two attacks on the offices of the newspaper Hurriyet, as well as the detention of three journalists working for Vice News.

They claim “independent journalism is now on its knees.”

“This is a crisis for democracy in Turkey that has repercussions not only for its citizens but for the rest of the world,” Director of English PEN Jo Glanville said.

Given the pressures that face the region, it’s more important than ever that Turkish journalists and writers are allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and inform public debate.

The letter comes after the main opposition party raised concern about the 32 journalists currently detained in Turkey earlier this week.

The Republican People’s Party accused the government of using counter-terror laws to persecute journalists, claiming 156 had been arrested in 2015, with 484 legal actions launched against journalists and 774 fired during the year.