Letter to writers of the world: UnFreedom of expression and PEN-Turkey

Tarık Günersel, PEN-Turkey

“Almost all of us are mortal,” said a French scholar in the presence of Louis XIV. He was afraid to say “We are all mortal.” 
      There has always been a tension between political power and freedom of expression. And at present, there is a serious tension in Turkey. To name just a few examples:
     *Article 301 of the Penal Code is still used and more than 700 citizens have been taken to court in relation to it.
     *PEN member Nedim Gürsel is on trial because of his novel “The Daughters of Allah” (or “God’s Daughters”) –upon the accusation that some sentences in the novel may hurt the feelings of some believers, though some sentences are misquoted.
     *The former PEN President Üstün Akmen, who is the president of the Association of Theater Critics,  is on trial due to the accusation that he has insulted the authorities who had banned a theatrical performance.
     *PEN member Pınar Selek, the leading feminist sociologist who had to spend 2.5 years in prison although she was found innocent of an explosion (which was claimed to be the result of a bomb but which turned out to be an accident related to a gas pipe), is taken to court again.
     *PEN member Ragıp Zarakolu, an award-winning intellectual for his contributions in the field of human rights and freedom of expression, is on trial as a publisher.
     *Honorary PEN Member İlhan Selçuk, journalist and writer in his 80s, was taken to the police station early in the morning –with the claim that he is connected to the preparation of a military coup.
     *Under the same accusation, Professor Türkan Saylan’s house has been searched by the police; she would probably be in prison now, if she were not extremely ill. She is now an Honorary PEN Member.
     *With the same accusation, journalist Mustafa Balbay has been in prison for more than two months –not permitted to write his daily articles in one of the most respected newspapers, Cumhuriyet (Republic.). Prof Dr Erol Manisalı and several other professors are also in prison –though they have not been proven to be guilty. It is possible to open a good university with the professors in prison.
     * Aylin Duruoğlu, the editor of the internet version of Vatan newspaper, has been taken to prison; she is claimed to be connected to terrorism.
     *Several members of the DTP (Democratic Society Party) have recently been taken to prison with the accusation that they are also members of the PKK.
     *Nobel Laurate Orhan Pamuk still faces punishment because of the claim that he insulted the nation.
     *Three books, one of which is Apollinaire’s “Adventures of a Young Don Juan” may be banned due to the accusation that they are ‘amoral’ –being “too erotic”.
     *Sezgin Tanrıkulu is the head of the advocats’ bar of Diyarbakır. He is on trial because he has published and distributed a bilingual agenda –in Turkish and Kurdish.
     *YouTube has been banned for more than a year.
     *On May 1st, the police used gas bombs against the peaceful demonstration around Taksim Square.     
     *In courts, numerous children in South-Eastern Turkey are treated as adults and face heavy sentences. Some are already in prison.
     All this shows that PEN-Turkey, which supports freedom of expression,  has a busy agenda. There is  widespread opinion that the government is using a possible conspiracy to silence the opposition. 
     At this point, some information about PEN-Turkey might be useful:      
      PEN-Turkey was founded in 1950 thanks to the leadership of the woman novelist Halide Edip Adıvar, our first president. Our club was closed after the military coup in 1980, but it was re-established in 1989, when the great novelist Yaşar Kemal became the president. PEN-Turkey is a multilingual centre: Members write in Turkish, Kurdish, Georgian, Armenian, Ladino, Arabic, English… PEN-Turkey
           *Supports the development of literature in all languages,
           *Criticizes the government for its anti-democratic pressures and demands that the journalists and other intellectuals in prison be released,
           *Demands that You-Tube become accessible,
           *Invites the government to sign the international agreement that supports gay and lesbian rights,
           *Celebrates May 1st –as literature is labour,
           *Opposes the growing oppression of religion on literature,
           *Demands that secularism be protected and developed,
           *Demands that the generals responsible for the 1980 military coup be taken to court,
           *Supports the democratic rights of the DTP (Democratic Society Party) that concentrates on the rights of our Kurdish citizens,
           *Opposes the use of violence,
           *Opposes Article 301 of the Penal Code, which is about “humiliating Turkishness” and which is used as a tool of oppression,
           *Invites the PEN centres of the Middle East to start a regional program,
           *Has initiated GreenPEN, which is a literary project that focuses on the relationship between nature and literature –hoping that more and more PEN centres will interact in this field. 
            We all know that no matter how much we care and do, there is much more to be done.
     Goethe said:
          “If you wish to run towards infinity
           Walk in finite -in every direction, simply.”
     As writers of Turkey, we are used to walking in more directions than permitted. In fact, in all directions.

Istanbul – May 14th, 2009                                                               
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