To the Editors:
English PEN is deeply concerned by the news that Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk will be brought before an Istanbul court on December 16, 2005, and that he faces up to three years in prison for a comment published in a Swiss newspaper earlier this year.
The charges stem from an interview given by Orhan Pamuk to the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger on February 6, 2005, in which he is quoted as saying that “thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it.” Pamuk was referring to the killings by Ottoman Empire forces of thousands of Armenians in 1915– 1917. Turkey does not contest the deaths, but denies that it could be called a “genocide.” His reference to “30,000” Kurdish deaths refers to those killed since 1984 in the conflict between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists. Debate on these issues have been stifled by stringent laws, some leading to lengthy lawsuits, fines, and in some cases prison terms.
Article 301/1 of the Turkish Penal Code, under which Orhan Pamuk will be tried, is a case in point. PEN sees it as extraordinary that a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, should have a penal code that includes a clause that is so clearly contrary to these very same principles.
To quote Article 301/1: “A person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years.” To compound matters, Article 301/3 states, “Where insulting being a Turk is committed by a Turkish citizen in a foreign country, the penalty to be imposed shall be increased by one third.” So, if Pamuk is found guilty, he faces an additional penalty for having made the statement abroad.
Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most well-known authors, whose works have been published worldwide in over twenty languages. In 2003 he won the International IMPAC award for My Name Is Red. His 2004 novel Snow has met with similar acclaim. His most recent book, Istanbul, is a personal history of his native city. He was a special guest speaker at English PEN’s International Writers’ Day in 2004—see www.englishpen.org/events/penevents/internationalwritersday2004 for details.
In early 2005, news of the interview for which Pamuk will stand trial led to protests and reports that copies of his books were burned. He also suffered death threats from extremists. English PEN has called on the Turkish government to condemn these attacks.