After Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the novelist 'ignorant', Auster reiterates protest against country's free speech prohibitions
Auster, author of the acclaimed New York Trilogy, told Turkish paper Hurriyet earlier this week that he refused to visit Turkey because of imprisoned journalists and writers. "How many are jailed now? Over 100?" Auster, a popular author in Turkey where his new book Winter Journal has just made its first appearance, said. "Us Democrats got rid of the Bushes. We got rid of [former vice president Dick] Cheney who should have been put on trial for war crimes. What is going on in Turkey?"
Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to respond, saying on Wednesday, in what was described as a "mocking" tone: "As if we need you! Who cares if you come or not? Would Turkey lose any grandeur?"
Erdogan also criticised Auster, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, for visiting Israel. "Supposedly Israel is a democratic, secular country, a country where freedom of expression and individual rights and freedoms are limitless. What an ignorant man you are … Aren't these the ones that rained bombs down on Gaza? The ones that launched phosphorus bombs and used chemical weapons. How can you not see this?" said the Turkish prime minister. "This gentleman can't see the repression and rights violations in Israel … This is serious disrespect to Turkey."
The war of words continues with a statement issued by Auster, in which he says that "whatever the prime minister might think about the state of Israel, the fact is that free speech exists there and no writers or journalists are in jail".
"According to the latest numbers gathered by International PEN, there are nearly 100 writers imprisoned in Turkey, not to speak of independent publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu, whose case is being closely watched by PEN Centers around the world," said Auster.
Zarakolu was one of more than 40 free speech activists detained in Istanbul in November, prompting international protests. The founder of Belge Publishing House and a member of Turkish PEN, Zarakolu has released controversial books documenting the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the first world war. Seven Swedish MPs have now applied for him to be awarded the Nobel peace prize, a move supported by the International Publishers Association.