Authors have historically been activists – think Thomas Paine, Aldous Huxley, Susan Sontag – and today’s authors are no exceptions.
From protesting Russian laws that purportedly “strangle free speech,”, to advocating for a digital bill of rights, to protesting censorship of erotic titles, and even rallying to save an Italian author threatened for his book examining the Neapolitan mafia, authors have a long and proud tradition of activism.
Their latest target? The Turkish government.
Dozens of notable authors – including Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Gunter Grass – have signed a joint letter from author-rights advocacy group PEN International protesting Turkey’s Twitter ban, which it calls “an unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of speech,” and urging its leaders to reverse the ban.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan enacted a countrywide ban on Twitter last week following social media leaks suggesting corruption among the nation’s top public officials.
He also threatened to shut down YouTube and Facebook as well, and on Thursday Turkish media reported its government had blocked YouTube as a “precautionary administrative measure.”
Authors – often seen as the canary in the coalmine when free speech rights are curbed – have been swift to respond via PEN International’s letter.
“We, the signatories named below, are writers from around the world who love, live and breathe words. We are united in our belief that freedom of expression is a universal and fundamental human right. We hereby express our grave concern with regard to “the freedom of words” in Turkey today,” the letter begins.
“Twitter and YouTube are vehicles of expression that give a voice to each and every user, regardless of class, religion, ethnicity, or political stature
The blanket ban on Twitter and YouTube comes in the aftermath of a regressive new internet law and is an unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of speech.”
As PEN explained, in February, the Turkish parliament passed a new law giving its telecommunications authority “almost unlimited power in tightening its controls over the internet.”
The letter concludes by urging Turkey "not to retreat from democracy and its keystone, freedom of speech; but rather to recognise their obligations under international treaties and to lift the block on Twitter with immediate effect.”
Individual authors have also spoken out separately over the ban, with Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk saying the situation in his country “is going from bad to worse and even towards terrible.” Pamuk, author of “My Name is Red,” and “Snow,” won the Nobel in 2006 after Turkish authorities charged him with “insulting Turkishness” for comments made about the Armenian genocide. The charges were later dropped.
Turkish author Elif Shafak was also charged with “insulting Turkishness” after the publication of her novel, “The Bastard of Istanbul.” The trial went on for a year before charges were dropped, as the Guardian reported.
Shafak left these words for the rulers of her country:
"Turkey's rulers need to understand that democracy is not solely about getting a majority of votes in the ballot box. Far beyond that, democracy is a culture of inclusiveness, openness, human rights and freedom of speech, for each and every one, regardless of whichever party they might have voted for. It is the realization of the very core of democracy that has been sorely lacking in Turkey today.”