Jailing scribes ‘clouds progress in Turkey’
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
President Gül (L) shakes hands with John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International Writers Association, in this photo taken from the president’s website. Gül expressed his deep concerns on the issue of jailed journalists, Saul says.Turkish President Abdullah Gül has expressed his deep concern about the issue of imprisoned journalists and writers, according to a leading international authors’ association.
“There are many good things unfolding in Turkey, but these concerns cast a shadow over the progress we are achieving,” Gül told a visiting delegation from the PEN International Writers Association yesterday, according to a written statement from the group.
Gül noted his “sadness” over the issue, which was the main item on the agenda of PEN’s 20-member delegation.
The president cited the “international repercussions” of those cases and said “those developments deeply sadden” him, the statement said.
“As president, I, more than anyone else, want to see that they are resolved and no longer on the country’s agenda,” Gül said.
Gül assured the delegation that he had been following the cases closely, John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International, told the Hürriyet Daily News after the meeting.
Recalling Turkey’s reforms which PEN had welcomed in previous years, Saul said the situation of trials and pre-trial detentions in Turkey were seriously worsening again over the last year.
Saul implied that there were different numbers as to the number of imprisoned writers, but said his group believed there was an “enormous” number of 70 such people in jail.
Another concern for them was that lengthy trials and pre-detentions scare other writers not facing legal charges, Saul said.
PEN admires the reforms Turkey has made so far, “but we are disturbed by what we see going on again,” he said.
“We know there are reforms that have happened, and there are reforms coming; that does not change the reality of the damage being done to people’s lives,” PEN’s chairman said.
The delegation gave the president a report of selected group cases that “require release or a different kind of treatment,” he said.
PEN requested the government “immediately review all such cases to ensure that no one is being penalized for the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful freedom of expression, and release all those currently detained, imprisoned, or facing prosecution in violation of this right.”
Gül made clear he was closely following the issue and he “hopes to see these cases resolved as soon as possible,” said Saul.
“The president’s recognition of the negative impact of free speech violations on Turkey’s future is important,” he said.
The PEN delegation also raised specific concerns about Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law, which “defines offenses too broadly and is applied inconsistently and often against those who have not supported, plotted, or carried out acts of terrorism or violence.”
Gül reiterated his belief that the best way to combat and isolate terrorism is to raise the standards of democracy, Saul said.
PEN International also requested an appointment from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but has not received a reply yet, he said.
PEN’s visit came on the heels of a visit by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which released a report last month in which the organization accused the Turkish government of engaging in a broad offensive to silence critical journalists through imprisonment, legal prosecution and official intimidation.
While hosting a reception for a board member of the CPJ, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone said earlier this month he supported the target of criticism in the report, but added that he remained impartial on the content.
Stressing that he was very interested in Turkish journalists’ views on this subject, the ambassador said: “Your work is so important for your country. Please keep up your professionalism. Ask me lots of questions, ask your officials lots of questions, be aggressive, always honest, and you’ll carry your country forward.”