On September 10, 2016, Turkish novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet Altan, an economist, were arrested by the Turkish government under charges that they spread "subliminal messages announcing a military coup" during a television interview on July 14, 2016.
An open letter is now circulating in support of the Altan brothers and other imprisoned writers and journalists. Since their arrest on Saturday, the letter has been signed by over 50 writers, publishers, academics, actors, and musicians, including Elena Ferrante, JM Coetzee, and Orhan Pamuk.
Europa will publish Altan's novel, Endgame, in 2017.
We the undersigned call upon democrats throughout the world, as well as those who care about the future of Turkey and the region in which it exerts a leading role, to protest the vendetta the government is waging against its brightest thinkers and writers who may not share their point of view.
The background to this letter is the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, which mercifully failed and was quickly subdued. Had the Turkish people themselves not resisted this assault on their institutions, the result would have been years of misery.
In the aftermath of that coup, it is understandable that the government would have imposed a temporary state of emergency. However, the failed coup should not be a pretext for a McCarthy-style witch-hunt nor should that state of emergency be conducted with scant regard for basic rights, rules of evidence or even common sense.
We as writers, academics and defenders of freedom of expression are particularly disturbed to see colleagues we know and respect being imprisoned under emergency regulations. Journalists such as Şahin Alpay and Nazlı Ilıcak and the novelist Aslı Erdoğan have been outspoken defenders of democracy and opponents of militarism and tyranny of any sort.
We are particularly disturbed to see the prominent novelist Ahmet Altan, and his brother, Mehmet Altan, a writer and distinguished professor of economics, being detained in a dawn raid on 10 September 2016. The pair stands accused of somehow giving subliminal messages to rally coup supporters on a television panel show broadcast 14 July, the night before the coup attempt.
Ahmet Altan is one of Turkey’s most important writers, whose novels appear in translation and sell in the millions. He was also editor-in-chief for five years of the liberal daily newspaper Taraf. The paper championed the public’s right to know. He has been prosecuted many times over his career – in the 1990s for trying to get a Turkish readership to empathize with the country’s Kurds and more recently for trying to force an apology from the prime minister for the 2011 Roboski massacre in which 34 villagers were bombed. He appeared in court as recently as 2 September, charged with handling state secrets based on an indictment that was in large part copy-pasted from two entirely different cases.
Mehmet Altan is a professor at Istanbul University, a columnist whose numerous books campaigned to rebuild Turkey’s identity not on race or religion but respect for human rights. Like his brother and others now in jail, his crime is not supporting a coup but the effectiveness of his criticism of the current government, whose initial progress in broadening democracy is now jammed in reverse gear.
We therefore call upon the Turkish government to cease its persecution of prominent writers and to speed the release of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan as well as so many of their colleagues wrongly accused.
For a full list of the signatories, click here.
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