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Posted on Nov 28, 2016 in Blog, International, Languages

Translator in Trouble

Translator in Trouble

Every December the PEN American Center in New York City hosts a gathering to write holiday cards to writers around the world facing repression. Most are in prison serving sentences for political “crimes,” while others have been detained but not formally charged. Some are under house arrest or otherwise still at home but under threat. In cases where the writer cannot receive mail or disclose his or her location, we send the cards to family members in exile. In the past two years I have written cards for threatened writers located in Vietnam, China (including the Uyghur region), Iran, Egypt, and Mexico. Last year the PEN Translation Committee made a concerted effort to locate threatened translators who had gotten into trouble because of the works they had translated.

It’s hard to isolate translation as the cause of a writer’s imprisonment or endangerment because in most countries throughout the world, translators also work as journalists, novelists, poets, and essayists. In autocratic countries, translators can also get into trouble for other reasons — signing a petition, attending a demonstration, badmouthing the leader in a café, or simply knowing another language. In countries ruled by nationalist extremists, educated multilingual people are suspect because of their “global” orientation. China under the Cultural Revolution and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge were extreme examples, deporting educated urban dwellers to toil in rural areas where most starved to death. These policies wiped out decades of intellectual, cultural, and scientific achievement.

Today, Turkey is ground zero for the persecution of journalists, writers, translators, and other intellectuals. Since the failed coup in July 2016, more than 100,000 educators have lost their jobs, and thousands of journalists and other writers are now in prison. Among them is the 70-year-old journalist and translator Necmiye Alpay. Alpay served on the Advisory Committee of a newspaper that Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared, without proof, to be a terrorist organ aligned with the Kurdish independence group PKK. Since August 31, Alpay has been held in Bakirköy Prison along with another female Turkish writer Asli Erdogan (no relation to the ruler).

English PEN has taken on Alpay’s case, as has the Translation Committee of the PEN American Center. Last month I signed a petition to Turkish President Erdogan demanding her freedom. Seeing as he has not freed the 70-year-old translator, I’ve decided to devote this blog post to her cause, and to write a holiday card to her at the PEN event next week. I will also write a letter to Mr. Erdogan and spread the word on social media. Here are things that you, dear readers of this blog, can do:

Spread the word

Please share details of Necmiye Alpay’s detention with friends and colleagues and on social media. #NecmiyeAlpay

Send messages of support and books

Send messages and postcards of solidarity and support to Necmiye Alpay in prison at the following address:

Ms. Necmiye Alpay
Bakirkoy Kadin Kapali Tutukevi
C-9 Kogusu
Bakirkoy – Istanbul – Turkey

Please also take a photo of your postcard and share on social media with the hashtag #yazarimadokunma (don’t touch my author).

If you would be interested in sending a book, please contact [email protected] for further information.

Send appeals to the Turkish authorities:

  • Urging the authorities to immediately release Necmiye Alpay who PEN believes is held solely in connection with her peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling for all detained writers and journalists to have access to lawyers and to be released if they are not to be charged with a recognisably criminal offence and tried promptly in accordance with international fair trial standards;
  • Calling on the authorities not to use the state of emergency to crack down on peaceful dissent, civil society, media and education.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi
06560 Beştepe-Ankara
Tel : (+90 312) 525 55 55
Fax : (+90 312) 525 58 31
E-mail: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @RT_Erdogan

You may read more about Necmiye Alpay’s case here.


  1. Thanks for the heads up, Lyn!

  2. I hope more people find out about her case and help her attain her freedom. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a 70-year-old woman to endure life in a prison cell.


  1. Lost Your Democracy? How Long Will It Take to Get It Back? | Lyn Miller-Lachmann - […] and Erdogan, elected prime minister in 2003 and president in 2014, waited for an attempted coup to crack down…
  2. Update on Translator Necmiye Alpay | Lyn Miller-Lachmann - […] months ago I wrote a post titled “Translator in Trouble,” about Turkish linguist and journalist Necmiye Alpay, imprisoned for…

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