Event: Resisting censorship in Turkey

30 November 2019

18:00 – 19:30

Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA.


Freedom of expression in Turkey is rapidly deteriorating. Independent media has been all but wiped out and at least 117 journalists are behind bars, making Turkey the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.

Join us on 30 November to hear stories of writers, artists and activists from Turkey who continue their work despite mounting pressure to self-censor. Award-winning writer, Burhan Sönmez, investigative journalist Nurcan Baysal and lawyer Gökhan Ahi will share experiences of harassment and imprisonment for their work, and discuss how people in Turkey remain determined to speak out in the face of censorship. The event will be moderated by author, journalist, translator and Chair of English PEN, Maureen Freely. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Background: Freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey

Over the past three years, Turkey’s fraying publishing landscape has been under severe threat, and as a result, is now largely decimated. More than 300,000 books have been removed from Turkish schools and libraries and destroyed, several novelists have been investigated for discussing controversial issues, and some writers have been prosecuted for ‘insulting Turkishness’. Of particular note, artist and journalist Zehra Doğan spent more than 500 days in prison for a painting depicting Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish forces.

Further, in a severe violation of international standards, the government triggered a state of emergency decree, which authorises the removal and blocking of websites without judicial oversight. This has resulted in thousands of websites and platforms, including Wikipedia, being restricted. Meanwhile, the crackdown on free expression continues as thousands of individuals have been prosecuted for posting on social media following the recent Turkish military offensive in Syria.

Presented by ARTICLE 19, English PEN and PEN International.

All proceeds from the event will support PEN International’s work defending freedom of expression.



Burhan Sönmez is an award-winning novelist. He is the author of four novels: North (2009), Sins and Innocents (2011), İstanbul İstanbul (2015) and Labyrinth (2018). His novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Born in Turkey, he grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish, then later moved to Istanbul where he worked for a time as a lawyer.  He contributes to various newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, la Repubblica, L’Unita, Die Zeit, BirGün, Guernica, and Electric Literature.

Nurcan Baysal is a Kurdish writer and human rights defender from Diyarbakır, Turkey. She is the author of O Gün (That Day), Kürdistan’da Sivil Toplum (Civil Society in Kurdistan, co-author), Ezidiler: 73. Ferman (Ezidis: 73rd Verdict) and O Sesler (Those Voices). She is also a columnist for Ahvalnews.  In 2017, Nurcan Baysal was awarded the ‘Brave Women Journalists Award’ presented by the Italian Women Journalists Association and she was named Global Laureate for Human Rights Defenders at Risk by our colleagues at Front Line Defenders in 2018. She is one of English PEN’s current writers in residence.

Gökhan Ahi has been working as a lawyer since 2001. He is an active member of many national and international non-governmental organizations. He is particularly interested in digital rights, IT law and criminal law. He is currently part time teaching IT crimes at Bilgi University. He publishes and speaks at various conferences, televisions and newspapers on freedom of expression, online censorship, cybercrime, digital advertising, personal data law, and electronic commerce.

Maureen Freely is an author, journalist, translator and academic. Her novel Sailing through Byzantium was named as one of the best novels of 2014 in both the TLS and the Sunday Times, and she has translated five books by the Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Chair of English PEN, she has worked closely with the organisation over the past 15 years, with a particular focus on freedom of expression in Turkey: she has taken part in fact-finding missions and attended many trials, as well as speaking out for writers at risk.

For press queries, please contact:

Pam Cowburn, ARTICLE 19: pamcowburn@article19.org

Cat Lucas, English PEN: cat@englishpen.org

Ingrid Brandvik, PEN International: Ingrid.Brandvik@pen-international.org


This event has been funded by the European Union