If the pen was always mightier than the sword – now seems to be the time for writers to be charged with acts of terror…it appears.


Likewise it might not bode well in terms of tempting fate to be Turkey’s representative on PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee (from 1998 to 2000)…especially if you are unlucky enough, as Aslı Erdoğan, the Turkish writer and human rights activist was,  to be in one of the countries where the limited freedoms we are offered here in the rest of the West are consistently curtailed and where the climate for free speech is not just cold but dangerous for your health.


This is the case now for 49 year old Aslı Erdoğan… as of November 25th held for 98 days (along with 70 year old linguist, Necmiye Alpay, held now for 86 days) in Istanbul’s Bakırköy women’s prison in Istanbul.


Arrested last August as part of the attack on the now shut-down pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem on charges of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)…she had also been charged over three articles written this summer covering the situation in Turkey’s southeast where the Turkish armed forces have been laying siege since the shutdown of the peace process in July 2015 and the AKP (Justice and Development Party)’s disappointing results in the June 2015 elections where it lost its parliamentary majority with only 40.9% of the vote…


Aslı Erdoğan arrived in court on Wednesday 23rd of November to answer charges of “seeking to disrupt state unity”, and on separate charges of membership of a banned terror organisation (the PKK), her lawyer, Erdal Dogan told reporters outside the prison on the outskirts of Istanbul.


Reports that filtered out initially were confusing. The court ordered the release of Erdoğan on the first  charges (“seeking to disrupt state unity”), however it also ordered she remain in pre-trial detention on the separate charges of membership of a banned terror organisation. She had appeared in court with Necmiye Alpay, (‘my efforts for peace are considered a crime’) as part of the now ongoing crackdown post-coup by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Taken into custody during the police raid on Özgür Gündem on 16 August 2016, she was detained on 17 August 2016 on the grounds of being a member of the advisory board of the newspaper.

asli Aslı Erdoğan

We know Turkey has gone to the dogs since the coup that began on 15 July 2016.


Not that it wasn’t struggling before that, but now, lets face it – it has gone to the dogs and if it wasn’t for the seedy deals the politicians trade in behind closed doors (whether it is cold calculation on the wellbeing of refugees or covert military plans planned in a NATO bunker), the world would have told President Erdoğan as much in public as well as privately.


Not that he likes any criticism as recent reports have shown:


“Europe, as a whole, is abetting terrorism. Even though they declared the PKK a terrorist organization, this is clear… We see how the PKK can act so freely and comfortably in Europe,” (President) Erdoğan said in a televised speech.” Reuters reported him as saying on November 6th.


Now it appears you are a terrorist if you happen to have any criticism of Turkey’s waning respect for civil rights and liberties as well as its almost genocidal attacks on the Kurdish people in the south east of the country in places like Cizre and Diyarbakır.


So far nothing new. But this recent attack on writers as well as those with a commitment to democratic institutions should concern us all.


We may well take too much of our own free speech for granted. As John Berger said during the infamous Miners’ Strike in England (1984-85) the belief in free speech is for those that buy into the lies coming from those in power; but for for the rest they have the full force of the state and its machinery of thuggery, as the striking miners experienced that cold winter. Likewise in his February 2003 article ‘Written in the night: The pain of living in the present world’ Berger says:


“The political mechanism of the new tyranny – although it needs highly sophisticated technology in order to function – is starkly simple. Usurp the words Democracy, Freedom, etc. Impose, whatever the disasters, the new profit-making and impoverishing economic chaos everywhere. Ensure that all frontiers are one-way: open to the tyranny, closed to others. And eliminate every opposition by calling it terrorist.”


And so Aslı Erdoğan remains in a prison that she herself describes as:


I call out to you, my fellow writers, from a prison in Istanbul; a women’s prison between a psychiatric clinic and a former leper hospital. I call out to you from behind stones, concrete and barbed wire, as if from the bottom of a well. Here, in my country, conscience is being depraved by unimaginable brutalisation. They are trying to kill the truth—it has become a habit, as if they were blind.”


Erdoğan is a successful writer. She also has a track record of promoting free speech in Turkey and working in behalf of human rights. PEN (America) says:


“In her writing, Aslı Erdoğan tackles controversial issues such as torture, human rights violations in prisons, violence against women, and Kurdish rights. As a novelist, Aslı Erdoğan’s first novel, Kabuk Adam (Crust Man), was published in 1994 and has since published 7 books. Her short story “Wooden Birds” received the first place prize from Deutsche Welle radio in a 1997 competition, and her second novel, Kirmizi Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak), received numerous accolades abroad and has been published in English. Her texts have also been translated to French, and in 2005 she was shortlisted by respected French literary magazine, Lire, as one of the “50 most promising authors of tomorrow.” She has previously written for the Turkish left-wing newspaper Radikal. As a result, she has been persecuted, lost numerous jobs, has been subjected to smear campaigns, and has been forced into exile for several years.”


She herself writes from prison:


Currently, more than 130 journalists are in jail – a world record. Additionally, 170 newspapers, periodicals, and radio/TV channels have been shut down in two months. Our current government wants to monopolize “reality” and “truth”. Any opinion differing slightly from that of the rulers is violently suppressed: They are subjected to police beatings, held day and night under custody (up to 30 days), among other punishments.


Surely we need to stand up now and say enough…


“…Enough! President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan…if you are that scared of the power of writers, intellectuals, artists and people who disagree with you there is no place for you in a modern world where democratic values, fought long and hard for, are becoming the norm and where dictatorial and authoritarian regimes and regimes that exist through the fear and violence they perpetrate are now living on borrowed time…”


Someone needs to say out loud: “Enough is enough. You are turning your country into a bad word in the (somewhat) free world.  Change direction. Before you bury yourself and your people in the dark night of your own worst nightmare…


On November 2nd, Reporters Without Borders labeled President Erdoğan as an ‘enemy of press freedom’.


Irish news on November 24th reported calls by the European Union to finally halt negotiations with Turkey on their application for EU membership:

“Members of the European Parliament voted solidly in favour of a non-binding motion urging the European Commission and national governments to freeze ongoing negotiations.”


Aslı Erdoğan despite her health difficulties and despite international calls for her release will be held in the women’s prison until her trial, estimated to begin on December 29.


The Turkish State, through its Public Prosecutors’ office is seeking life imprisonment for the writer, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported some time back.


In the meantime the world needs to raise its voice so that these prisoners of conscience who have committed no crime will not be forgotten.


The letter she wrote to European leaders on November 1 ends:


Europe should assume its responsibility for the values it has defined with the blood of centuries, the values that make “Europe” a democracy with human rights, including freedom of speech and thought.


We need all your solidarity and support.”


séamas carraher

november 2016.

asli_erdogan_wik asli


Sources & References (thanks to)




By Kerim ARLI from Turkey (hapishane  Uploaded by Ob.helm) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



By Konto na chwilę (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0

(], via Wikimedia Commons




John Berger’s Article:


Aslı Erdoğan:Letters (October & November)


Imprisoned Linguist and Author Necmiye Alpay:


Supplementary Material:

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