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Cracking Down on Creative Voices: Turkey’s Silencing of Writers, Intellectuals, and Artists Five Years After the Failed Coup

Since the attempted coup d’état in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has elevated his attacks on Turkey’s civil society to unprecedented levels, becoming one of the world’s foremost persecutors of freedom of expression. In the five years since the attempted coup, dozens of writers, activists, artists, and intellectuals have been targeted, prosecuted, and jailed; 29 publishing houses have been closed; over 135,000 books have been banned from Turkish public libraries; and more than 5,800 academics have been dismissed from their posts for expressing dissent. PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index found that Turkey was the world’s third highest imprisoner of writers and public intellectuals, with at least 25 cases of detention or imprisonment. This repressive climate has left writers and other members of Turkey’s cultural sector feeling embattled and targeted, unsure of what they can say or write without falling into their government’s crosshairs.

PEN America, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), and members of Turkey’s cultural, artistic, and literary communities discussed these trends and made recommendations on how policymakers might respond to Erdoğan’s campaign of repression. The discussion highlighted PEN America’s report on freedom of expression in Turkey, which features interviews from members of Turkey’s literary, cultural, and human rights communities to better understand how this society-wide crackdown has affected freedom of expression within the country.

Introductory Remarks:

Panel Discussion: