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Dozens of Nobel laureates pen open letter to Turkey's Erdogan demanding release of jailed writers Open in fullscreen

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Dozens of Nobel laureates pen open letter to Turkey's Erdogan demanding release of jailed writers

Dozens of prominent writers are alarmed over Turkey's persecution of the press [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 February, 2018

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Over 35 Nobel prize-winners have addressed an open letter to Turkey's President Erdogan demanding the release of jailed writers, renewing alarm over freedom of expression in the country.
Thirty-eight Nobel prize winners including JM Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro and Mario Vargas Llosa have penned an open letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning the leader that his country's reputation is at stake due to its unjust persecution and detention of journalists and writers.

The letter drew notably upon the case of novelist and columnist Ahmet Altan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment earlier this month over his alleged links to the failed 2016 coup in Turkey. 

"We wish to draw your attention to the damage being done to the Republic of Turkey, to its reputation and the dignity and wellbeing of its citizens, through what leading authorities on freedom of expression deem to be the unlawful detention and wrongful conviction of writers and thinkers," the letter read, published in The Guardian on Wednesday.

The letter's authors mention in particular the cases of three veteran journalists, brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan as well as Nazli Ilicak, all of whom were handed life sentences following the failed 2016 coup for allegedly "seeking to usurp the constitutional order in Turkey".

The letter slammed the insubstantial evidence put against the three defendants, in a trial that drew widespread public ridicule on top of Turkey’s own constitutional court ruling that the defendants should be released.
All these writers had spent their careers opposing coups and militarism of any sort, and yet were charged with aiding an armed terrorist organisation and staging a coup
"All these writers had spent their careers opposing coups and militarism of any sort, and yet were charged with aiding an armed terrorist organisation and staging a coup," the writers added.

The letter drew pointed similarities between the cases and the president's own experience of persecution for expressing his own views. 

"In April 1998, you yourself were stripped of your position as mayor of Istanbul, banned from political office, and sentenced to prison for 10 months, for reciting a poem during a public speech in December 1997 through the same article 312 of the penal code. This was unjust, unlawful and cruel. Many human rights organisations – which defended you then – are appalled at the violations now occurring in your country."

It has been widely noted that President Erdogan has been increasingly wielding authoritarian measures, especially against freedom of expression, since coming into office in 2014.
The letter highlights a 2009 speech given by Erdogan in which he declares 'Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison – this era is gone for ever'

The letter highlights a 2009 speech given by Erdogan in which he declares that "Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison – this era is gone for ever," which the writers point out is in grave contrast with his current iron grip over freedom of expression and the free press. 

"Among the audience were Çetin Altan’s two sons: Ahmet and Mehmet. Nine years later, they are sentenced to life; isn’t that a fundamental contradiction?" the letter concludes.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 156 jailed journalists in Turkey, most of whom were held in the mass crackdown after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan.

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