[The JRB Daily] Thirty-eight Nobel laureates, including JM Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro and Wole Soyinka, write open letter to Turkey’s President Erdoğan over threats to freedom of expression

Thirty-eight Nobel laureates have written an open letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to draw his attention to damage being done to the country through ‘the unlawful detention and wrongful conviction of writers and thinkers’.

The letter, which was published in The Guardian, addresses the detention of bestselling novelist and columnist Ahmet Altan, his brother Mehmet Altan, professor of economics and essayist, and prominent journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, who were all arrested following the failed July 2016 coup in the country. 

The three writers were charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence or force’, although the evidence supporting the charges is, according to the letter’s authors, insubstantial.

‘All these writers had spent their careers opposing coups and militarism of any sort, and yet were charged with aiding an armed terrorist organisation and staging a coup,’ the letter reads.

On 11 January this year, Turkey’s constitutional court ruled that the rights of Mehmet Altan and another journalist, Şahin Alpay, were being violated by pre-trial detention, and that they should be released, but the country’s first-degree courts refused to implement the decision. Then, on 16 February, the Altan brothers and Ilıcak were sentenced to ‘aggravated life sentences’.

The letter concludes:

During a ceremony in honour of Çetin Altan, on 2 February 2009, you declared publicly that ‘Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison – this era is gone for ever.’ Among the audience were Çetin Altan’s two sons: Ahmet and Mehmet. Nine years later, they are sentenced to life; isn’t that a fundamental contradiction?

Under these circumstances, we voice the concern of many inside Turkey itself, of its allies and of the multilateral organisations of which it is a member. We call for the abrogation of the state of emergency, a quick return to the rule of law and for full freedom of speech and expression. Such a move would result in the speedy acquittal on appeal of Ms Ilıcak and the Altan brothers, and the immediate release of others wrongfully detained. Better still, it would make Turkey again a proud member of the free world.

The full list of Nobel laureate signatories is:

Svetlana Alexievich, Philip W Anderson, Aaron Ciechanover, JM Coetzee, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Elias J Corey, Gerhard Ertl, Albert Fert, Edmond H Fischer, Andrew Z Fire, Andre Geim, Sheldon Glashow, Serge Haroche, Leland H Hartwell, Oliver Hart, Richard Henderson, Dudley Herschbach, Avram Hershko, Roald Hoffmann, Robert Huber, Tim Hunt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elfriede Jelinek, Eric S Maskin, Hartmut Michel, Herta Müller, VS Naipaul, William D Phillips, John C Polanyi, Richard J Roberts, Randy W Schekman, Wole Soyinka, Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas C Südhof, Jack W Szostak, Mario Vargas Llosa, J Robin Warren, Eric F Wieschaus

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