Restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey continue unabated. Since the failed coup of 15 July 2016, the state of emergency imposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has permitted the arbitrary use of extraordinary powers to detain dissidents. Journalists, writers and academics are routinely intimidated into silence, harassed or imprisoned on spurious charges. In the past year, almost 170 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (run by exiled Turkish journalists), at the time of writing some 272 journalists are in prison and a further 110 are ‘wanted’. Turkey now has the highest number of journalists behind bars in the world.
In February I wrote about investigative journalist Ahmet Sık, currently on trial with sixteen colleagues from Turkey’s oldest newspaper, Cumhuriyet, accused of supporting terrorist groups. At the preliminary hearings in July, seven of the journalists were released. In his powerful testimony, Sık, who remains detained, criticised Erdoğan’s suppression of the media and concluded:
Criminalization of journalistic activities is a common feature of totalitarian regimes. My experience shows that because of my journalistic activities I have managed to become the offender of the judiciary of every government and of every period. I am proud of this inheritance I will be leaving to my daughter … journalism cannot be practised by toeing the line and you cannot call it journalism if it is done toeing the line … I was a journalist yesterday. I am a journalist today. And I will continue practising journalism tomorrow. That means the irreconcilable contradiction between us and those who want to strangle the truth will never end. In these dark days what we need is not the further loss of the truth. More than anything we need more truth.
There has also been a sustained crackdown on Kurdish rights and culture. The Kurdish language is banned in the print press and pro-Kurdish media outlets have been closed down. Thousands of teachers, journalists and academics have been suspended from their jobs as part of a nationwide purge, MPs from the pro-Kurdish HDP party have been arrested and other elected local officials have been summarily replaced.
It’s hard to believe that an accountancy textbook might result in the imprisonment of its author on terrorism charges. But that’s what has happened to the Kurdish writer Hasip Yanlıç, who on 4 July was arrested in a police raid at his house in Diyarbakır. Yanlıç is a Kurdish teacher, journalist and author who for the past four years has been an active member of the Kurdish Journalist Association and Kurdish PEN. Since 2004, he has worked as a Kurdish language teacher for Kurdî-Der and the Kurdish Language Institute. In 2011 he published the world’s first book on accountancy written originally in Kurdish, entitled Jimêryariya Giştî (‘General Accounting Concepts’). He went on to publish Cîrokên Soreşgerî (‘Stories of Struggle’) and Lîstikên Zarokan (‘Plays for Children’) in 2012.
The charges against Yanlıç relate to emails concerning the first chapter of his accountancy book and his role in the Koma Civakên Democrat (Kurdish Democratic Groups), under whose auspices he has taught Kurdish language courses. The prosecutor claims that the emails and his association with Koma Civakên Democrat amount to ‘aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation’. PEN believes Yanlıç is being punished for his writing and outspoken stance on linguistic rights and Kurdish education and calls on the Turkish authorities to release him immediately.
Readers might like to send appeals to the Turkish authorities expressing concern at the arrest of Hasip Yanlıç and calling for his immediate release; seeking assurances that all detained writers and journalists will be treated in accordance with international fair-trial standards and be immediately released if they are not charged with a criminal offence; urging the authorities not to use the state of emergency to suppress peaceful dissent, civil society, media and education; and calling for an end to the crackdown in the Kurdish regions.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül
Milli Müdafaa Caddesi 22, Bakanlıklar
06659 Kızılay, Ankara, Turkey
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
06560 Beştepe, Ankara, Turkey
His Excellency Mr Abdurrahman Bilgiç
Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PA
Readers can send letters to Hasip Yanlıç, currently held in Diyarbakır Closed D Type Prison, expressing solidarity with him.
Letters to be addressed to:
Diyarbakır D Tipi Yüksek Güvenlikli Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu
21010 Yenişehir/Diyarbakır, Turkey
Update: PEN is deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing of poet, artist and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre Liu Xia. The Chinese authorities have prevented outsiders from having contact with her since the death in July of her husband, the writer and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo (LR, July 2009, May 2013), despite assertions that she is ‘free’. Liu Xia has been subjected to unofficial house arrest without charge since October 2010. Human rights organisations continue to call on the authorities to lift all remaining restrictions placed upon Liu Xia immediately and unconditionally.