PEN International launches campaign for Kurdish writer Meral Şimşek
Kurdish PEN member, writer and poet Meral Şimşek is facing up to 15 years in prison on the charge of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and up to seven-and-a-half-years on the charge of ‘making terrorist propaganda’.
Kurdish PEN member, writer and poet Meral Şimşek is facing up to 15 years in prison on the charge of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and up to seven-and-a-half-years on the charge of ‘making terrorist propaganda’. She is due to stand trial on 21 September. In a separate case, Şimşek faces up to five years in prison on the charge of ‘entering a restricted military area’ after she fled to Greece earlier this year and was pushed back to Turkey. The hearing will take place on 16 November.
PEN International launched a campaign for the Kurdish writer. In a statement, the organization said it "believes that Meral Şimşek is being targeted for her writings and calls for all charges against her to be dropped."
PEN International asked for letters to be sent to the minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gül, "calling for all charges against Meral Şimşek to be dropped; calling for an end to the prosecution and detention of journalists and writers on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliation, and for the immediate release all those held in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression; calling for an end to the crackdown on the Kurdish regions and for a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict."
Meral Şimşek is the prize-winning author of three poetry books – Mülteci Düşler (Refugee Dreams), Ateşe Bulut Yağdıran (Clouds on Fire) and İncir Karası (Black Fig). Her novel Nar Lekesi (Pomegranate Stain), published in 2017, tells the story of Şimşek’s family and sheds light on the plight of Kurdish people in Turkey in the 1990s. She became a member of Kurdish PEN in June 2020. She also works as an editor and frequently publishes poems and articles.
On 9 December 2020, anti-terror police detained Meral Şimşek in Malatya province, Eastern Turkey. She was released the following day pending trial and placed under a travel ban. In January 2021, the Malatya 2nd High Criminal Court formally charged her with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 314/2 of Turkey’s Penal Code, and ‘making terrorist propaganda’ under Article 7/2 of Anti-Terror Law No. 3713. The indictment notably mentions Şimşek’s short story Arzela, featured in the anthology Kurdistan + 100, in which twelve contemporary Kurdish writers imagine a country they could call their own by the year 2046. The anthology was awarded a flagship PEN Translates Awards from English PEN in 2021.
Meral Şimşek fled to Greece on 29 June 2021. Following her arrival, she was reportedly stopped by Greek police who strip-searched her and confiscated her identity documents and phone. She reports having been forced into a car, before being handed over to masked individuals who made her cross the border back into Turkey. On 30 June, she was detained by Turkish police at the Ipsala border crossing and sent to Edirne Prison, where she spent seven days in poor detention conditions. On 6 July, she appeared in court via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS. She was released under travel ban, and asked to report to the police station three times a week. Her trial hearing was set for 21 September.
A separate case on the charge of ‘entering a restricted military area’ in Ipsala was filed against Şimşek, for which she faces up to five years in prison. The hearing will take place on 16 November.