To mark PEN International’s centenary this year, PEN’s English Centre has launched PENWrites (englishpen.org/pen-writes), an international letter-writing campaign to offer solidarity to writers in prison and at risk around the world. Many writers have told the organisation how much letters and messages mean to them, serving as a crucial reminder that they have not been forgotten. Others have spoken of how they were given better treatment in prison as a result of cards flooding in from all over the world. Throughout 2021, English PEN is inviting readers to join them in celebrating and supporting writers of courage worldwide by sending letters of solidarity to them and their families.
One of the featured writers is Kurdish journalist and poet Nedim Türfent (LR, March 2019), who was detained on 12 May 2016 after reporting on the Turkish special police force’s ill-treatment of Turkish and Kurdish workers in southeast Turkey, where a majority of the population is Kurdish. Soon after his damning video footage was published, Türfent began receiving death threats and became the target of online harassment.
He was charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’. At a show trial intended to punish him for his journalism, nineteen of the twenty witnesses said that their initial statements had been obtained under torture. Yet the court sentenced Türfent to eight years and nine months in prison, where he remains today.
To mark the fifth anniversary of Türfent’s imprisonment, English PEN has published Caroline Stockford’s translation of his poem ‘Prisoners Roaring for Freedom’:
In the last light of evening sun
in its glances that search and stretch on
songs of freedom echoed in anthems
in the cell, its atmosphere tightening.
Five to ten people, arms linked together,
in their hearts, deep in their bones
a single voice.
Cries woven in that sound,
and yells, screams of rebellion!
Late evening, a Saturday in summer.
A handful of people holding the line
in folk-dance formation.
A momentous solidarity; coalescence.
Bodies in chains, the songs at liberty,
rising higher and higher, the inner voice
of a few men filled the prison.
Some, newly detained,
some, nearing completion,
resolute together, and crying out freedom.
A truth in their words that can never be captured,
fatigue of captivity there in their bodies,
calling as one man, one voice for liberty.
In sun’s final glances of evening
locked-in, but free.
The repression of dissidents in Turkey continues unchecked. Publisher and human rights defender Osman Kavala has spent over three and a half years behind bars. First detained in October 2017, he was put on trial in June 2019 after being charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ by ‘organising and financing’ the 2013 Gezi Park protests. He and the majority of his co-defendants were acquitted in February 2020. However, Kavala was immediately rearrested on accusations of ‘espionage’ and seeking to ‘destroy the constitutional order’ through his alleged support of the attempted coup of 2016.
Following an appeal by the prosecutor, in January of this year the appeal court overturned Kavala’s acquittal in the Gezi Park case. The retrial began in May and is ongoing at the present moment. If convicted, Kavala faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole. At the time of writing, he remains in trial detention in Silivri Prison outside Istanbul.
In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that by detaining and charging Kavala, the Turkish authorities had ‘pursued an ulterior purpose … namely that of reducing [him] to silence’ and ordered his immediate release. The Turkish authorities continue to ignore this binding judgement, along with calls from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers for Kavala to be set free.
Readers might like to send appeals urging the Turkish authorities to release Nedim Türfent and Osman Kavala immediately and unconditionally, to end the prosecution and detention of writers, journalists and publishers for their work or alleged affiliations, and to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Ministry of Justice
Tweet about Nedim Türfent’s case using the hashtags #FreeNedim and #FreeTurkeyMedia. Tweet about Osman Kavala’s case using #FreeOsmanKavala.
Send messages of solidarity to:
Van Yüksek Güvenlikli Kapalı
Ceza Infaz Kurumu A-44
Silivri Kapalı Ceza Infaz Kurumu
9 No’lu Cezaevi, A-7/C 59