GEZİ IS OUR FREEDONM OF THOUGHT AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSİON
We are addressing not to those without conscience, but to those with conscience.
We are addressing not to despots, but to democrats.
not to the lawless but to those who respect law.
not to obeyers of despotism but to citizens.
We are addressing not those who keep acting against the Constitution,
but to those who take the definition in our constitution seriously:
‘The Republic of Turkey is a secular democratic social state based on human rights.’
The Gezi Park Protests in 2013 were peaceful and constitutional reactions of environmentalist citizens who demanded democracy and human rights. They were our reactions. Gezi is us. Gezi is hope. Gezi is solidarity. Gezi is freedom of thought and expression. Gezi is the right to choose your life style. Gezi is the possibility of co-habitation of differences. Gezi is our richness. Gezi is well and alive, because our demand for democracy and law is well and alive.
We stand by all our friends convicted in the Gezi Protests. Life long sentence and 18 years of imprisonment, is the result due to the lack of independent justice and lack of division of powers. It is yet another slur on jurisprudence in our country at this stage.
Totally ignoring the numerous vitally serious issues we face in our country, totally disregarding human rights, laws & justice, these sentences are handed down in acts of plain vengeance about a civil resistance movement which took place ten years ago & involved millions of people.
This is what We, as PEN Turkey would like to say on this subject:
We are calling to account all those who ignore our constitution; ignore independent justice; those who misuse their authority by cheating on every level; those who destroy our forests, rivers, lakes, shores, render our cities uninhabitable; those who thrive on tensions brought on by divisive acts, vengeance & strife. Those who incite atmospheres of tension & terror should be made well aware that “TOMORROW” and “HOPE” , “ JUSTİCE” and “DEMOCRACY” are not very far away for our beautiful country.
At a recent “Dialogues on War” event organised by PEN International, in a conversation between Andreiy Kurkov and Philippe Sands, Kurkov was asked what people could do to support Ukrainian writers. “Read their books”, was his reply.
Sands’ own incredible, brilliant, East West Street, illuminates Ukraine’s extraordinary role in European history and international Human Rights law. Part memoir, part family history, part legal analysis, the book reads like a thriller.
Here is a link to a list of recommended titles by Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian authors, put together by PEN International. The list was edited by Diana Delyurman, Iryna Rodina and Myroslava Mokhnatska.
And here’s a selection from that list, with additions from people who were on that and later calls:
Applebaum, Anne Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (History)
Hnatiuk Ola Courage and Fear (History: Lviv during WWII)
Kurkov, Andreiy Grey Bees (novel; currently on the Dublin Literature Award 2022 longlist)
Kurkov, Andreiy Jimi Hendrix Live in Lemberg (Lviv)
Marynovych Myroslav The Universe Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident
Plokhy Serhii The Gates of Europe (Historical study of Ukrainian identity and sovereignty)
Sands Philippe East West Street (History, Memoir, Family History, Human Rights Law)
Shevchenko Taras (Poetry)
Snyder Timothy Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Non Fiction: History)
Paola Ugaz is a Peruvian investigative journalist, editor and writer. She is facing a campaign of harassment, threats, and defamation lawsuits, including allegations of crimes due to her investigations into corruption, as well as physical, psychological and sexual abuse within the Peruvian religious organization Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana, which she has conducted since 2010.
In February 2021, Ugaz was served a lawsuit that could land her in prison. Ugaz’s case is part of a sophisticated system in Peru where powerful groups use the courts as whips to silence journalists by fabricating criminal allegations against them.
PEN International considers that the charges, lawsuits, threats and ongoing harassment against Ugaz are violating her right to freedom of expression, as well as her civil and political rights. PEN calls on the Peruvian authorities to dismiss the lawsuits against her and to cease immediately the harassment Ugaz faces for her work as a journalist, editor and writer.
Please, send appeals to the Peruvian authorities:
Expressing deep concern about Ugaz’s charges, lawsuits, threats and ongoing harassment, which are in relation to her work.
Calling for a halt to the judicial proceedings against Ugaz, considering that the complaints and prosecution are intended to stop her investigations and prevent the publication of her books, as well as to impose a chilling effect on other writers and journalists, and prevent them from exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Calling upon the Peruvian authorities to repeal criminal defamation legislation, which is still in force in Peru. Such legislation impedes the exercise of citizens’ rights to information and to hold their governments to account. It also limits the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and therefore erodes the work of writers, journalists and editors.
Please inform PEN International of any action you take or any response you get.
In 2015, Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz published the book Mitad monjes, mitad soldados (Half Monks, Half Soldiers) (Planeta, 2015), which uncovered the biggest scandal within a Catholic organization in Peru. Ugaz began to receive complaints and lawsuits following the announcement she was publishing a new book (yet to be published) about the group’s financial management.
Ugaz faces at least five legal proceedings for the publication of her book and investigative journalism. In October 2020, she received a death threat on her Instagram account and a new hearing was held, in which the judge decided to open a judicial process against her. The trial stems from a complaint filed by Luciano Revoredo Rojas, a former congressional candidate and director of the conservative Catholic news and commentary website La Abeja, who accused Ugaz of aggravated defamation.
Furthermore, in November 2020, Carlos Alberto Gomez de la Torre Pretell, a ‘Sodalicio’ employee, sued Ugaz for defamation following her participation in a 40-second statement, broadcast by Al Jazeera in a documentary titled “The Sodalitium Scandal.”
For a long time, Ugaz has been the target of a smear and disinformation campaign in relation to her work as a journalist where, without any evidence, she is linked to alleged criminal networks, money laundering, uranium and plutonium trading, among others. She is also the target of harassment, including the publication of private data about her children, who are minors, and about her colleague Pedro Salinas, co-author of the book.
Ugaz is currently facing defamation suits by Revoredo Rojas and Gómez de la Torre, and is being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office as the head of a money laundering network.
Paola Ugaz could face preventive detention, imprisonment or a ban on leaving her country.
Here is a quote from Enoh Meyomesse (Cameroon) about the effect of receiving letters from PEN members while he was in prison:
“Your letters set me free. Your postcards broke my chains.”
On 15th November, to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer (and the first anniversary of the re-launch of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann), sixteen members joined us via Zoom to talk about selected writers and write letters and cards of support. Our featured writers were: Nedim Turfent (Turkey), Ilhan Sami Çomak (Turkey), Dawit Isaak (Eritrea), Amanuel Asrat (Eritea), Nasrin Sotoudeh (Iran), Pham Doan Trang (Vietnam) and Paola Ugaz (Peru).
This was a wonderfully friendly, engaged session where we thought about and talked about PEN’s principles of supporting writers who have been imprisoned because of their work, their ideas, their courage and their belief in freedom of expression.
With thanks to English PEN, PEN Norway and the Free the Poet Campaign and PEN International for their support.
As PEN Centres we wish to highlight the case of renowned Indian poet, Varavara Rao, to all those who care about the defense of freedom of expression for writers. We call for all charges to be dropped against Rao, and hope that you will join our campaign to ensure his freedom.
Varavara Rao is an 82-year-old poet and activist who was arrested in 2018 along with several other activists in India on charges of inciting violence under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The charges relate to Elgaar Parishad, a non-profit event held on 31 December 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima. The controversial Bhima Koregaon case, and the arrests and incarcerations associated with it, shocked us and many other human rights organisations around the world.
Since his 2018 arrest, Rao has been held in appalling conditions. The notorious Taloja Central Prison where he has been held took no account of his age and fragility. In July 2020, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was moved to JJ Hospital in Mumbai. Here, his visiting relatives reportedly found him unattended and delirious on a urine-soaked bed.
On 22 February 2021, Rao was released from custody on an interim bail agreement, after the Bombay High Court conceded that ‘…the hospital at the Taloja Central Prison is not adequately equipped to take care of the undertrial, given his advanced age and various health conditions. Sending the undertrial back to Taloja Central Prison would certainly endanger his life.’
Our relief when this decision was reached by the Bombay High Court is now tempered with grave fears that he will be returned to jail when this six-month bail period ends. We also remain deeply concerned over the bail conditions imposed on Rao, which include prohibiting him from speaking with media and restricting his movements to the Mumbai area, hundreds of kilometres from his hometown of Telangana.
Sharing her fears for Rao’s future, Scottish PEN Trustee and Writers at Risk Committee member Bashabi Fraser said:
‘We do not want Varavara Rao to be returned to jail to meet the same fate as the humanitarian social worker, 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, an innocent man who was incarcerated as a political prisoner and died in jail in early July 2021. Father Swamy had been held without trial charged on the same Elgaar Parishad case as the much respected 82-year-old poet activist, Varavara Rao. Varavara Rao has been wrongly accused. We demand that all fabricated charges are dropped against Rao and he is allowed to live as a free man with dignity’.
A Marxist poet and activist, Rao is an important figure in Telugu literature, and has published over 15 poetry collections since the 1960s. He is a founder of the Virasam – the Revolutionary Writers Association, and ran Srujana (Creation), a monthly journal focusing on modern Telugu literature, for over 25 years. His prison diary – Captive Imagination – was published in English in 2010. Rao is well known for his campaigning work to secure land and labour rights for Indian workers, and PEN Centres have been advocating for his freedom since his arrest in 2018. A poetry anthology dedicated to Rao, entitled Freedom Raga, was published last year and an anthology of his work in English is forthcoming from Penguin India this autumn.
June Considine, co-founder of the Freedom to Write Campaign (Ireland) and Board member of Irish PEN, made the following call to Indian authorities:
‘Now in his eighty-second year, Rao’s reputation as a poet has garnered him an international audience. He is widely respected for his principles and defense of human rights. We hope that the Indian authorities will afford him those same democratic liberties and take account of his distinguished career, his great age and declining health. This humanitarian gesture will reflect the true value of a functioning democracy’
We, the undersigned PEN Centres, call for the immediate release of Varavara Rao and fellow Elgaar Parishad activists and for the release of all prisoners being held for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression.
To support our call to action please consider the following:
Write to representatives of the government of India in your country expressing your concern.
(From PEN International): 23 June 2021 – PEN International and PEN Català welcome the release of unjustly imprisoned Catalan writers and civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, who were serving a nine-year prison sentence for sedition through participation in Catalonia’s independence referendum held on 1 October 2017. Sànchez and Cuixart were among nine jailed Catalan politicians and activists pardoned by the Spanish government yesterday. All remain banned from public office, with the pardons conditional to them not committing serious crimes over a given period of time.
This event, organised by Letters With Wings, was dedicated to the women artists Chimengul Awut (award-winning Uyghur poet) and Nûdem Durak (a folk-musician of Kurdish origin who is a political prisoner in Turkey).
Participants included: Lia Mills (Chair of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann), Catherine Dunne, Celia de Fréine, Kate Ennals, Moyra Donaldson, Evgeny Shtorn, Gianluca Costantini (activist, cartoonist and visual artist), Antje Stehn (Rucksack, A Global Poetry Patchwork), Simone Theiss (Westminster and Bayswater Amnesty International Group) and Letters with wings’ poet members Nandi Jola, Csilla Toldy and Viviana Fiorentino. It was a powerful, inspirational evening and a great privilege to be involved at all.
(With thanks to the Imagine! Belfast Festival & its production staff: Richard, Emma, Gillian)
First, I want to acknowledge the horrific circumstances and the courage of the two women who this event has been set up to honour, Chimengul Awut and Nudem Durak. I also want to acknowledge what’s happening in Myanmar, where poets and artists are included among the hundreds of people imprisoned and killed during unarmed protests. Other readers will read the work of Burmese poets tonight, I leave that to them.
We take so much for granted, including the simple ability to dial into an event like this and speak freely, without fear of detention, or torture, or the fear of losing everything, our jobs, our homes, our lives.
You might ask, what difference can an event like this make? What is their point? If we are free to speak and other people aren’t, how does one of those facts meet the other?
At its most basic level, an event such as this introduces us to people we might otherwise never hear about – people just like us, except that they live in more oppressive, authoritarian states; people whose freedom can be taken away because they write or say or paint what they think.
What you do with the knowledge you gain here is up to you. The problem might seem too big for ordinary individuals to solve. But one positive step you can take is to decide to write to someone who is in prison, tonight. Maybe someone whose words you will meet for the first time in the next hour.
You may never know the difference your letter makes, but the testimonies of prisoners whose cases are monitored by PEN International tell us that a note or a card from a complete stranger can make the difference between light and darkness in a prison cell, just as art and literature can.
PEN International was founded on the principle of goodwill and fellowship among people who care about literature and the freedom of expression on which democracy depends. One of the things PEN has become known for is that its members write letters to writers and artists who have been imprisoned because of their work. The same principle is behind Letters With Wings, who have organised this event. (You might consider joining either or both of us.)
So one thing an event like this can do is to tell you – who are listening – about some of these courageous writers and activists and, importantly, encourage you to reach out and support someone who has been deprived of the kind of freedom we take for granted.
Prisoners report that such letters make all the difference to them during the unending, worrying days when they are cut off from family, friends, their future. It helps to know that people in the wider world know where they are and pay attention to what happens to them. It helps to remember that there is a wider world, waiting for their return.
One question we have been asked to address here is: Why do some governments fear the arts?
I think it’s because the arts nurture and express human faculties that can’t be obliterated by any external force or authoritarian regime: the imagination, the ability to empathise with other people; the capacities for love, hope, faith, idealism. The arts express what it is to be human in our time and place, and that brings news not everyone wants to hear, news that certain governments in particular want to suppress. So they bring in censorship, intimidation, vexatious lawsuits, punitive laws.
They can try to suppress artistic freedom along with every other kind, but with art that’s harder to do – because the work art does is not always out in the open. Art doesn’t just live in the moment when an image is seen, understood and felt, or when a poem is read. Much of it happens in our minds and hearts, in our imaginations. It takes root in us. It lives on when the moment has passed. You can’t imprison a story, or kill a song.
I’m going to read some examples that demonstrate the extraordinary resilience and power that prisoners find in literature. The writing they continue to do against overwhelming odds is not bitter, or negative; it’s not about recrimination or hatred. These voices soar, they are free. They rise far above their immediate circumstance and call us to join them, if we dare.
To illustrate the principle, here is a poem by Eva Gore Booth, a passionate advocate of the principles of non-violence, written in 1918 to her sister Constance (Markievicz) who was in prison. The sisters had an arrangement that they would think about each other at the same time every day. The poem says that even when we are separated by prison walls, we can reach each other.
The peaceful night that round me flows, Breaks through your iron prison doors, Free through the world your spirit goes, Forbidden hands are clasping yours.
The wind is our confederate, The night has left her doors ajar, We meet beyond earth’s barred gate, Where all the world’s wild Rebels are Eva Gore-Booth, Broken Glory 1918
Next I’ll read a poem by Ilhan Sami Çomak. Imprisoned in Turkey at the age of 22, 27 years ago. Ilhan is held in solitary confinement.
27 years. Alone in a cell.
What could he possibly write about? Life, love, light and colour. His mind, his imagination, his words are free. PEN Norway/Norsk PEN are running a brilliant campaign for Ilhan, which includes people writing poems for him, to which he responds with poems of his own. I urge you to visit the website and learn more (details in the chat).
What Good is Reading Poetry?
It’s good for making hands fine enough to touch silk And for feeling the moment that stone turns impatient
It’s good for looking in the eyes of hungry cats And extending curiosity out among all animals
It is the darkness that makes my night voice heard And makes it easier to say ‘the moon will come up late’
For years my feet have been cold, so cold When I say this, it helps me compare winter to snow
Spring will begin today, I know Reading poetry helps me believe that feeling
It reminds me I don’t miss the Istanbul bustle Lets me know things to tell my love in a letter
When I’m tired, to stop and rest, not to drink water when I sweat, It helps me to cry and fret over wildfires, over death
To know anger’s reserved just for evil To stop and ask forgiveness of women
To feel youth when young, to understand it later on, It’s good for helping me to sit and write new poems
Good for helping me seduce and flatter Then to kiss my love when the leaves turn yellow Ilhan Sami Çomak
Translated by Caroline Stockford (reproduced with permission)
And finally, from writer and journalist Ahmet Altan, currently serving a 10 ½ year sentence in Turkey after being in pre-trial detention for over 3 years (he is 71 years old)
From I Will Never See the World Again
‘I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not Wherever you lock me up I will travel the world with the wings of my infinite mind. Besides, I have friends all around the world who help me travel, most of whom I have never met. Each eye that reads what I have written, each voice that repeats my name holds my hand like a little cloud and flies me over the lowlands, the springs, the forests, the seas, the towns and their streets. They host me quietly in their houses, in their halls, in their rooms. I travel the whole world in a prison cell. (…) I am writing this in a prison cell. But I am not in prison. I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not. You can imprison me but you cannot keep me here. Because, like all writers, I have magic. I can pass through your walls with ease.’ (Granta. pp. 211-2)
And that, I think, is exactly why certain governments fear the arts.
Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann: www.irishpen.com (Website under revision, please be patient. Current campaigns are listed under “News”)
A few days from now a large delegation – ten of us – will go to Mexico City . This will be a strong expression of solidarity for Mexican writers and journalists. It will also be unprecedented, with the entire Executive going – Hori Takeaki , Eric Lax and myself – as well as the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee– Marian Botsford Fraser – and representatives of all four North American Centres, as well as the English and Japanese, all going to stand in public with our Mexican colleagues. Émile Martel, Russell Banks, Adrienne Clarkson, Gillian Slovo, Larry Siems and Adam Somers, as well as Renu Mandhane, head of the International Human Rights Program of the University of Toronto ’s Faculty of Law, will join the Executive.
We will be working with the three Mexican PEN Centres – Mexico , Guadalajara and San Miguel Allende. The culmination of this will be a public event organized by Jennifer Clement, President of PEN Mexico , and her members, involving the delegation and some 50 Mexican writers on Sunday, January 29.
There is also a public letter of solidarity to Mexican writers which I hope you will all sign. It is coming to you separately.
This is not a delegation of experts. It is a delegation of writers using our public voice. And what we do and say will be quickly transmitted to you in the hope that you will respond in your own countries.
This is all part of a sustained Mexican PEN campaign. Recently the Day of the Dead initiative initiated by Jens Lohman of Danish PEN and Tony Cohan of San Miguel PEN, spread our concerns about the threats faced by Mexican journalists throughout our membership. We hope that these new Mexican initiative will take on our campaign a stage further.
The PEN International Website
A lot of you are already sending material to the new website. This is what we need: Centres all over the world telling the rest of PEN about their work and their risks. Please contribute.
Finally, these last few weeks have been moving and historically important for Czech writers and for the belief in freedom of expression that all of us have. First, our former President, Jiří Gruša, one of the leading dissident writers of the post war period died. Then Václav Havel, about whom a great deal has rightly been written around the world. Then Ivan Jirous, whom Paul Wilson called the “leader of the Cultural Opposition”. Jirous was a poet, essayist and leader of the psychedelic rock band Plastic People of the Universe. The struggle to get him out of prison in part inspired the Chapter 77 movement. And finally, Josef Škvorecký has died, another great writer and leading dissident. Living in exile in Toronto he created 68 Publishers in 1971 and for two decades published banned Czech and Slovak writers. The books then made their way illegally back into Czechoslovakia . Of course, there are many more names, but when four courageous and inspired writers die almost together it should be marked as an important moment for all of us in PEN.
John Ralston Saul
EDIT: The link to the PENProtesta petition against impunity in Mexico is available here