English PEN, one of the world’s oldest human rights organizations that champions the freedom to write and the freedom to read, has launched a campaign to send Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in jail since November 2016 on politically motivated charges, messages of solidarity ahead of his birthday on April 10.
The organization urged supporters of Demirtaş, a writer and former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), to send their messages to him either via a form on their website or directly to his address at the Edirne F-type prison in northwestern Turkey, noting that on April 10 of this year he will be celebrating his fifth birthday behind bars.
“His arrest and detention on dubious terrorism charges came after a controversial temporary constitutional amendment that lifted HDP deputies’ parliamentary immunity. The evidence used against him consists largely of his political speeches and press statements and lacks any compelling evidence of criminal activity,” English PEN said in the campaign statement.
The organization underlined that the case of Demirtaş, who faces up to a combined total of 142 years in prison if convicted, was “emblematic of the harassment, threats, and the persecution that critical voices have been facing in Turkey, particularly since the coup attempt of July 2016 and the breakdown of the rule of law that followed.”
English PEN further noted that the Turkish authorities had so far failed to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgments from 2018 and 2020, which had found that the detention of Demirtaş pursued the “ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate,” ordering his immediate release.
The organization also mentioned in the statement the books written by the Kurdish leader, noting that the English translation of a collection of short stories titled “Seher” (Dawn), which instantly became a best-seller and was translated into scores of languages, won an English PEN Translates award in 2018.
The HDP is accused by the government of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Although the pro-Kurdish party denies the claim, a government-led crackdown on the HDP reached new heights following a failed coup in July 2016, as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) detained thousands of its members and replaced many of its provincial and city mayors with government-appointed trustees.