Letter in the Guardian about Ilhan Comak and our February 2020 Exiled Lit Cafe.


Free Kurdish poet Ilhan Sami Çomak

Signatories including George Szirtes and Ruth Padel are appealing to Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab to help free the writer, who has been jailed in Turkey for 26 years despite evidence of his innocence


We write to draw attention to the plight of the Kurdish writer İlhan Sami Çomak. Çomak was originally arrested in 1994 as a 22-year-old geography student at the University of Istanbul. He was charged with starting a forest fire and of being associated with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ party, charges he denied and to which he confessed only under torture.

Despite evidence of his innocence, and despite a series of failed or constantly postponed appeals, he is still in prison on the basis of that same confession. While in prison, his sentence was extended after the events of 2016, the failed coup and the ensuing repression. There seems to be little prospect of his release in the near future.

Despite his 26 years of prison, Çomak has produced several volumes of highly regarded poetry, the last of them winning the prestigious Sennur Sezer prize in 2019. On 3 February in the poetry cafe at the Poetry Society, a packed audience attended an event organised by Exiled Writers Ink and Norway PEN, dedicated to Çomak’s poetry and fate. It was a moving evening.

There are many other writers in Turkey who have fallen foul of the government. And 70,000 students currently in prison, but a writer such as Çomak, being the longest-serving one-time student, deserves our special attention. We call on the prime minister and the foreign secretary to make representations to the Turkish government to free him as soon as possible.

Ipek Ozel Lecturer, Turkey, Erkut Tokman Poet and editor, Turkey, Caroline Stockford Norway PEN and translator, Ali Has Solicitor and human rights campaigner, Margaret OwenHuman rights lawyer, Peace in Kurdistan, Sally Greengross Human rights campaigner, Annette Lawson Campaigner and sociologist, George SzirtesPoet, Anne Stevenson Poet, Ruth Padel Poet, Gillian Clarke Poet, Jack Mapanje Poet, Choman Hardi Poet, Pascale Petit Poet, Ifor ap Glyn Poet, Gwyneth Lewis Poet, Menna Elfyn Poet, Mel Pryor Poet, Chris WinterfloodPoet, Kelly Davis Poet, Jennifer Langer Founder, Exiled Writers Ink, Julie Ward Former MEP, Camilla Reeve Publisher, Aydin Mehmet Ali Writer and translator, Michael Baron Campaigner and poet, Estella Schmidt Campaigner, Peace in Kurdistan, Eugene Schoulgin Norway PEN, David Scott Emeritus professor, UCLA, Rachel Palmer Campaigner, Elizabeth NussbaumCampaigner, Michael Wells Translator, Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes Publisher and Nasrin Parviz Writer