Paul Auster to Erdogan: Unlike Turkey, Israel Still Has Free Speech

Noted American author publishes statement following remarks by Turkish PM who called Auster 'ignorant' for choosing to visit Israel while criticizing limits on free press in Turkey.

Noted American author Paul Auster defended his decision to refuse a Turkey visit over the limits the country places on free speech on Wednesday, after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused him of having double standards for visiting Israel.

On Tuesday, Erdogan branded the acclaimed novelist as ignorant on Tuesday for refusing to visit Turkey in protest at the jailing of journalists, saying: "If you come so what? If you don't come, so what? Will Turkey lose prestige?"

Paul Auster - AP - 02022012

"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," Erdogan said, adding: "This gentleman can't see the repression and rights violations in Israel... This is serious disrespect to Turkey."

In a statement released on Wednesday and published in the New York Times' Arts Beat blog, the American author defended his decision to stay away from Turkey, saying 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 PEN, there are nearly one hundred writers imprisoned in Turkey, not to speak of independent International publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu, whose case is being closely watched by PEN Centers around the world," Auster added.

In reference to Erdogan claims that Auster was willing to visit Israel even though it "rained bombs down on Gaza," the American author said: "All countries are flawed and beset by myriad problems, Mr. Prime Minister, including my United States, including your Turkey."

However, the U.S. writer said, it was his firm conviction that in order to improve conditions in our countries, in every country, the freedom to speak and publish without censorship or the threat of imprisonment is a sacred right for all men and women."

Auster's most recent book Winter Journal has been translated into Turkish and published before the English version.

The United States, European Union and rights groups have all criticized the prosecution of journalists which they say taints Turkey's image as a role model for democracy in the Middle East.

Last month, Erdogan filed libel cases against the editor of the Taraf newspaper Ahmet Altan and a correspondent at the paper, Perihan Magden, over articles criticizing him.

Read this article in Hebrew.