Last month, PEN marked International Women’s Day by highlighting the cases of two Kurdish writers persecuted for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression: Gulgeç Akdeniz – who uses the pen name Gulgeş Deryaspî – and Meral Simşek (LR, October 2021). Both face lengthy prison sentences in Turkey for their writings.
Born in 1978, Deryaspî studied Kurdish language and culture at Muş University in eastern Turkey. She is the author of three novels in Kurdish. Tariya Bi Tav (‘Darkness with Sunshine’), published in 2010, portrays life in Kurdish villages and explores the concept of alienation. Xezal (‘Gazelle’), published in 2013, depicts the struggle of a woman against patriarchy and state oppression. Ez Ne Ezim (‘I am Not Who I am’), published in 2018, explores existential and philosophical questions.
Deryaspî was arrested on 25 July 2019 as part of a series of raids across Bitlis province in eastern Turkey, during which eight other individuals were also detained. Four days later, she was formally charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 314/2 of Turkey’s penal code and sent to prison, where she remained in pretrial detention until 30 March 2020. She was released on bail but only as part of an attempt by the authorities to stem rising cases of Covid-19 in Turkey’s overcrowded jails. On 3 December, she was sentenced to six years and three months in prison. Her lawyers lodged an appeal on 28 February 2021. At the time of writing, over a year later, a decision on her appeal is still pending.
Simşek is the prize-winning author of three poetry books: Mülteci Düşler (‘Refugee Dreams’), Ateşe Bulut Yağdıran (‘Clouds on Fire’) and Incir Karası (‘Black Fig’). On 9 December 2020, she was detained by Turkish anti-terror police in Malatya province in eastern Turkey. She was released the following day pending trial, and banned from travel. In January 2021, Simşek, like Deryaspî, was charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ as well as with ‘making terrorist propaganda’ under Article 7/2 of Anti-Terror Law No 3713. The indictment mentions her short story ‘Arzela’, which appears in the anthology Kurdistan + 100, in which twelve contemporary Kurdish writers imagine a country they can call their own coming into being by the year 2046. (The collection received an English PEN Translates Award and is published by Comma Press on 14 July.) Simşek has said that this imagined utopia was used as evidence against her – the authorities claimed it represented a future project of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
On 7 October 2021, Simşek was found guilty of ‘making terrorist propaganda’ and sentenced to one year and three months in prison. She was acquitted of the other terrorist charge and her travel ban was lifted. She has launched an appeal, which is ongoing. In a separate case, Simşek, who fled to Greece in June 2021 but was forced back into Turkey, faces up to five years in prison on the charge of ‘entering a restricted military area’ during her attempt to leave the country.
PEN believes that both writers have been targeted unreasonably. Kurdish culture and language continue to be harshly repressed in Turkey and the situation regarding freedom of expression remains dire. Most pro-Kurdish and Kurdish-language media outlets have been closed down and dozens of journalists are in prison after facing trumped-up charges of terrorism. These include news editor, reporter and poet Nedim Türfent (LR, March 2019, July 2021). Writer and former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş (LR, June 2019) also remains behind bars, despite the European Court of Human Rights twice ruling that he should be immediately released. The Turkish authorities continue to forcibly replace elected HDP local officials in the southeast of the country, depriving voters of their elected representatives in parliament and local government.
Readers might like to send appeals to the Turkish authorities calling for the convictions of Gulgeş Deryaspî and Meral Simşek to be overturned; urging the authorities to stop the prosecution and detention of journalists and writers for their writing or alleged affiliations; demanding that all those held in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression be immediately released; and calling for an end to the crackdown on the Kurdish regions and for a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Ministry of Justice
06659 Ankara, Turkey
His Excellency Abdurrahman Bilgic
43 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8PA
Fax: 020 7393 0066