On February 24, Börsenverein (the German Publishers and Booksellers Association), PEN Germany and Reporters Without Borders delivered the #FreeWordsTurkey petition representatives of the government and the German representative to the UN. The petition gathered 110,047 signatures and calls for a stronger stance against violations of freedom of expression in Turkey.
In a statement published on the change.org website, Börsenverein states that “freedom to form and express an opinion is a non-negotiable human right” and urges the German government and the European Commission “to call for an uncompromising respect for freedom of expression in any related decisions, actions and statements they make” and “to re-evaluate their policies with regard to the countries in question”, meaning those countries that do not respect these basic human rights and pillars of a democratic society.
Representatives of the three associations visited the German Chancellery to present the petition in the hands of Steffen Seibert, the press secretary of Chancellor Merkel, and Dr. Christoph Heusgen, the Under-Secretary for Foreign and Security Policy and designated German ambassador to the United Nations. They were accompanied by Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist living in exile in Germany.
Börsenverein managing director Alexander Skipis declared: “We have come to the point where concrete action needs to follow up the lip service paid so far by government bodies. Since the launch of the #FreeWordsTurkey petition, the situation of authors, publishers and cultural and creative artists in Turkey has gotten worse; indeed we have even seen an increase in the terrifying rage against people who express any kind of dissenting opinion. And all the while, political actors sit by and watch, largely idle. We therefore call on Angela Merkel and the German federal government to remain firmly committed to human rights and – under no circumstances – to jeopardise freedom of opinion or instrumentalise freedom of speech by making it the subject of negotiations in connection with various economic interests, refugee-related issues or NATO bases”.
According to Regula Venske, secretary general of the PEN Centre Germany and a PEN International executive committee member, “the ongoing oppression of the media in Turkey undermines not only the freedom of the Turkish people but also the stability of the country and the region on the whole. We urge the German government to put pressure on the Turkish president to withdraw or adjust the measures put in place in connection with the state of emergency, especially those that contradict the international human rights obligations of his country. We also call on the German federal government to use their influence to halt the intimidation of journalists and the media carried out by Turkish institutions. They must also take all necessary steps to investigate assaults and attacks on journalists and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Indeed, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are essential elements in any open democracy”.
Michael Rediske, spokesman for Reporters Without Borders commented: “The German government cannot continue to hold back its public criticism. While it is indeed working behind the scenes to free individual journalists, such as Deniz Yücel, it is ignoring the other, more than 100 journalists currently imprisoned in Turkey. We urge Chancellor Merkel to name names in public and demand their release”.