Ordinarily, I am a couple of degrees removed from the people who are persecuted for standing up for free speech. But an e-mail that was sent to me over the weekend brought the perils a little close to home.
On 2nd February 2016, the offices of the Kurdish PEN Centre in Sur Amed (Diyarbakir) were attacked. Photos provided by my colleagues at Kurdish PEN show the door to their office was bashed in, and the abstract statues in the courtyard were decapitated.
It is unclear who perpatrated this attack. PEN International says:
PEN International is currently seeking further information about the circumstances of this attack. In the meantime, it calls on the Turkish authorities to carry out a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the attack, bring anyone responsible for any crime relating to the attack to justice and to ensure that all Kurdish PEN members are protected from harm and are able to exercise their right to peaceful free expression.
To see an office so clearly labelled ‘PEN’ with its door kicked in is personally chilling, and I feel the intimidatory censorship of my colleagues quite acutely. Fear is engulfing Turkey, and it effects us all. I am reminded of something Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk said in 2006, at the inaugural PEN Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Memorial Lecture:
Because when another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free. This, indeed, is the spirit that informs the solidarity felt by PEN, by writers all over the world.
The writers at the Kurdish PEN centre are not the only members of PEN to have been persecuted in Turkey. The writer Mario Levi, a board member of PEN Turkey, was subjected to a nasty hate campaign in 2014 on the basis of his Jewish ethnicity. And the entire board of PEN Turkey were questioned under suspicion of ‘insulting the state’ after a statement on their website expressed support for the musician Fazil Say, who had been charged with religious defamation.