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PEN Int’l calls on Turkey to drop charges against sociologist in exile

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PEN International has said Turkish authorities should drop all charges against prominent sociologist and PEN Turkey member Pınar Selek over a deadly 1998 explosion ahead of her hearing in İstanbul on June 28.

Sociologist, feminist and writer Selek, 53, has faced decades of trials over a 1998 explosion that occurred in the İstanbul Spice Bazaar, a tragedy that killed seven and injured over 100.

Arrested in July 1998, she spent over two years in prison, where she said she suffered torture and other ill-treatment.

Selek was acquitted of all charges four times – in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014 – due to the testimony of expert witnesses who claimed that the cause of the explosion was a gas leak rather than a bomb, yet the courts ordered retrials after each of these acquittals.

On June 21, 2022, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned Selek’s fourth acquittal.

Her fifth trial in absentia before a high criminal court in İstanbul began on March 31, 2023; the proceedings were adjourned until September 29, 2023 and then again until June 28, 2024. She is the subject of an international arrest warrant.

“PEN International believes that the prosecution of Pınar Selek is linked to her work as a sociologist researching Kurdish communities in the mid-to-late 1990s, and that she is being pursued through the courts as a means of penalising her for her legitimate research and commentary,” a statement from PEN International said on Monday.

At the time of her arrest, Selek had been working on an oral history of the outlawed Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies, and talking to some PKK members to find out why they had chosen violence. Selek reported being tortured under investigation, in an attempt to coerce her into divulging the names of individuals she had interviewed as part of her research.

The situation of freedom of expression in Turkey remains a serious concern. In September 2022 the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International adopted a resolution calling on the Turkish authorities to end the prosecution and detention of writers on the basis of the content of their writing – including in support of Kurdish language and culture – and to immediately release all those held for peacefully expressing their views.

Selek has written extensively about the plight of women, the poor, street children, the LGBTI community and the Kurds in Turkey. She is one of the founding editors of Amargi, a Turkish feminist journal. Her latest book, “Le Chaudron Militaire Turc” (The Military Cauldron), was published in November 2023. She has been living in France since 2012 and holds both French and Turkish citizenship.

She is a former resident of German PEN’s Writers-in-Exile program.

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