January 11, 2013

PEN Turkey under investigation for ‘insulting the state’


Fazil Say

Despite the welcome news — reported on MobyLives on Tuesday — that a ban has been lifted on 23,000 books in Turkey, the situation for freedom of expression in the country remains dire. So dire in fact that international PEN organisations yesterday announced that, to their grave concern, six members of the PEN Turkey board are under criminal investigation.

Back in June of last year PEN Turkey’s website carried a statement condemning the imprisonment of the musician and former EU culture ambassador Fazil Say. Say had been arrested essentially for tweeting jokes and statements that conservative, devout Muslim Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government took exception to, including one joke about raki, an alcoholic drink. He’s been charged with inciting hatred and public enmity and with insulting ‘religious values’. He faces a maximum sentence of eighteen months in prison, and the trial is scheduled for February.

PEN Turkey’s online response, posted some six months ago, decried the charges, stating that ‘the international community has been put on alert in the face of fascist developments in Turkey’. It was apparently a complaint from a private individual about that post that brought six members of the organisation’s board before Istanbul‘s Public Prosecutor’s Office yesterday. Among those summoned were PEN Turkey’s president, vice president, general secretary and treasurer. According to English PEN:

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, PEN Turkey board members may face charges under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (publicly denigrating Turkish ethnicity, the government of Turkey, its institutions or its military/security forces), which carries a prison sentence of six months to two years. In addition, board members may face charges of ‘attempting to influence the judicial process’ under Article 288 of the Turkish Penal Code.

Was the lifting of the book ban just an attempt to distract from these increasingly punitive restrictions on freedom of speech?




Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.