Turkey cracks down on books, publishers

Turkish authorities are targeting authors and publishers following reports that the government has destroyed hundreds of thousands of books in the past three years, the Media Line reported on Monday.  

A new book about the prevalence of paedophilia during the Ottoman Empire has led to charges of obscenity being brought against Mehmet Sabuncu and Kaynak Publishing House. 

“It’s not fair feeling that threat,” he told freelance journalist Kristina Jovanovski. “First of all, it’s not good for the publisher financially if they destroy books, and it’s also problematic for freedom of speech.”

In May, a Turkish author and his publisher were detained after excerpts of the author’s novel shared on social media led to an outcry about its depiction of child sexual assault. 

Sabuncu said legal cases against publishers are now so common that his lawyers review all books before publication. Many publishing houses in Turkey have begun to self-censor to avoid any trouble with authorities. 

A failed 2016 coup, which the government blames on U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, led to a massive purge, with more than 77,000 people detained and 150,000 public servants dismissed. 

Last month, Turkey’s education minister announced that authorities had since destroyed more than 300,000 books linked to the Gülen movement, saying it was part of the government’s fight against terrorism. The movement denies involvement in the coup attempt.

A 2018 report by the writer’s group PEN International found a crisis of freedom of expression in Turkey, with a 150-percent increase in criminal investigations of alleged attempts to undermine constitutional order and a doubling of investigations of suspected crimes against the judiciary since the failed coup.

“It’s not only books that are being banned – any criticism against the government, any criticism against what’s going on is being banned, [including material] that’s in the newspapers or on the internet,” Cumhuriyet columnist Zeynep Oral told the Media Line. 

Sabuncu says he will continue to publish what he wants. “We never do censorship in our minds,” he said. “If we want to give something to society, we give it, and we don’t care about the rest.”