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Cracking Down on Creative Voices: PEN America Report on Turkey's silencing of writers

PEN America compiled a report based on interviews with members of Turkey’s civil society outlining the ways in which Turkey has used formal legal procedures to stifle writers, activists, artists, academics, and creative professionals in the country over the last five years. The report is titled "Cracking Down on Creative Voices: Turkey’s Silencing of Writers, Intellectuals, and Artists Five Years After the Failed Coup."

For years leading up to the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been increasingly consolidating power in the executive. After the failed coup, though, more repressive whiplash started immediately – beginning with the targeting of supporters of the religious leader Fetullah Gülen, who Erdoğan blamed for the insurrection.

In response to the coup attempt, Erdoğan declared a state of emergency and immediately began taking advantage of the resulting expansive executive powers. He fired over 100,000 public-sector workers; arrested tens of thousands of oppositional party members, academics and writers; and stifled travel abroad by cancelling passports and implementing individual travel bans. Over 100 media outlets were shut down. These executive powers became enshrined permanently in law in the 2017 constitutional referendum, and mass detentions continue into 2021.

The governments’ actions towards civil society revolved around calling dissent treasonous and responding capriciously to slights against Erdoğan. As such, countless writers and academics have been arrested, and the ones who haven’t live in fear and self-censor their work. Others have sought refuge internationally.

Since the attempted coup, Erdoğan has dismissed nearly a third of the entire judiciary and filled their positions with civil servants loyal to him.

The report identifies Erdoğan’s taking control of the judiciary as singly detrimental to the safety of creatives in the country: “this system-wide shakeup has resulted in a judicial system that does not operate as a check on executive power, but rather as an instrument in Erdoğan’s repression.” The president uses preexisting criminal statutes to silence political dissent and Kurdish cultural expression, and then his judiciary system makes sure that the cases are prosecuted.

The report lays out a route to reestablish democratic traditions in Turkey by using its membership in international organizations like NATO and the Council of Europe. The international community can support Turkish civil society, even though it has failed to do in the past. The report lays out the following recommendations:

  1. The U.S. and EU to coordinate their responses to Turkey’s human rights violations, including raising publicity about detained and threatened creatives and dissidents.

  2. Due to Turkey’s refusal to implement the European Court of Human Rights’ rulings concerning the release of two political prisoners, the Council of Europe to start infringement procedures against the country.

  3. U.S. Congress to pass laws withholding development and military aid to Turkey in their noncompliance with international human rights laws; to increase funding for Voice of America’s Turkish Service and Kurdish Service and consider funding new Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programming towards the same aim; and to increase support and funding for free expression, creative initiatives and cultural exchange in Turkey.

The International Free Expression Project works to provide you information about reports being published like this one from PEN America, as well as elevate resources to reinforce free expression globally. If you enjoyed reading this report summary, follow us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), join our mailing list to get updates straight to your inbox, and consider donating to support our mission.

To read the full report, click here.

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