Responding to the news that award-winning writer Aslı Erdoğan and renowned linguist Necmiye Alpay were acquitted of terror-related charges by an Istanbul court earlier today, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said:
‘We, the PEN community, are delighted with the wonderful news today from Turkey, which is all too rare: we celebrate the long-awaited acquittal of Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay. They have endured three-and-a-half years of judicial harassment and that they were to be prosecuted for what they had written is a matter of disgrace. Such blatantly politically motivated prosecutions have become a staple of Turkey’s criminal justice system.
As we welcome this great victory for press freedom, we refuse to lose sight of those still languishing behind bars in Turkey on trumped-up charges – and we will continue to campaign for the freedom of Ahmet Altan, Osman Kavala, Nedim Türfent and Selahattin Demirtaş.
We renew our call on the Turkish authorities to end these prosecutions of writers and journalists and release them from detention, because they are being subjected to such treatment only because of the content of their writing or alleged affiliations. We call upon Turkish authorities to immediately release all those held in prison for peacefully expressing their views.’
Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were both detained in August 2016 as part of a broader crackdown on the now-closed pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, where they served as advisory board members. They were released from pre-trial detention on December 29, 2016 following a national and international outcry. Out of the 56 journalists and activists who took part in a solidarity campaign with Özgür Gündem from May to August 2016, 49 were put on trial.
On January 13, 2020, prosecutors requested that Aslı Erdoğan be sentenced to up to nine years and four months in prison for ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organization’, and that Necmiye Alpay be acquitted.
Hundreds of PEN members across the world have been actively campaigning on behalf of Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay since the time of their arrest, notably by sending appeals to the Turkish authorities, electing them as honorary members, taking part in solidarity campaigns and protests, publishing articles and raising their plight on social media, amongst other things.
Although Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were both acquitted, other journalists and activists involved in the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign remain on trial. Turkey retains the saddest accolade of being the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 97 journalists and media workers behind bars.
For more information about the state of freedom of expression in Turkey, please click here.