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Turkey Releases One Writer, Two Remain in Prison as Trial Drags on

Photo: Ali Berktay

As demonstrations in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey continue, several trials against writers and journalists, some of which opened nearly four years ago, remain ongoing. In one of the most recent court hearings, five writers are among 200 defendants in a mass trial of people accused of involvement in the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK). PEN International is deeply disappointed that only one of these writers has been freed, and that the trial against all five continues. Two of the writers will remain in prison for at least three more months. This latest hearing opened on May 27, 2013, and closed two weeks later, on June 7. The next is set to open on September 7. PEN firmly believes that the charges against Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, Ragip Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan, and Büşra Ersanlı are in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Turkey has ratified.

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Background Information

Thousands of people are believed to be on trial in Turkey as part of the ongoing Koma Civakên Kurdistan (Union of Communities in Kurdistan), or KCK, investigation. The KCK is an alleged umbrella organization for groups with links to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The crackdown has included pro-Kurdish politicians, lawyers, journalists, and intellectuals and has been underway since 2009. Hearings are being held in several courts on different dates. The current trial, of around 200 people including the five writers whose details are given below, is being held at a mass hearing in Silivri Court, some 50km from Istanbul. All are charged under Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law yet it is clear that many among the defendants are accused only for their engagement in debates on Kurdish issues, taking part in meetings, and other activities that in no way can be seen to promote violence. These include writers who are affiliated with, or have taken part in events organized by, the pro-Kurdish Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), a legal party with 29 representatives in parliament. It is thought that BDP supporters have been brought under the KCK investigation as a means of undermining the party.

PEN is highlighting five writers who are among those tried last week. It considers the cases against Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan, Ragip Zarakolu, and Büşra Ersanlı to be seriously flawed and the charges against them to be in direct violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association. PEN is calling for these charges to be dismissed. It is particularly concerned that two of the five are still in prison, and urges the Turkish authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally.
 

  • Ayşe Berktay: academic, author, translator, and peaceful activist, winner of the 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Arrested on October 3, 2011, she remains in prison. She is accused of “membership of an illegal organization” for allegedly “planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilizing the state.” She could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
  • Deniz Zarakolu: author, translator, and PhD candidate, was arrested in October 2011 and has also been detained ever since. Charged with “membership of an illegal organization” for giving lectures on political philosophy for the BDP, Zarakolu faces up to 12 years in prison.
  • Mulazim Ozcan: Kurdish poet, linguist, and consultant at Ragip Zarakolu’s publishing house (see below), he was arrested in October 2011 and released on June 7, 2013, pending trial. It is believed that his charges are linked to a lecture he gave on the Kurdish language to the BDP.
  • Ragip Zarakolu: publisher who is one of Turkey’s most prominent free expression activists and father of Deniz Zarakolu, above. Arrested in October 2011, he was released in April 2012 pending trial and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted as charged for “aiding and abetting an illegal organization.” He is accused of making speeches for the BDP and writing for a pro-Kurdish newspaper.
  • Professor Büşra Ersanlı: respected academic and political scientist, also arrested in October 2011, and freed pending trial in July 2012. She could receive a sentence of up to 22.5 years if convicted on charges of “leading an illegal organization.” An elected member of the BDP’s Party Assembly, at the time of her arrest she was advising the BDP on constitutional reform.

PEN has a long history of engagement with human rights and free expression issues in Turkey. In November 2012 a PEN delegation to Turkey met with President Abdullah Gül, Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bağis, and others to raise concerns about the large numbers of writers who are detained and on trial. PEN welcomed the opportunity to have an open and frank exchange on the state of free expression in Turkey, and to seek assurances that measures were being taken to improve the situation. The continuation of these trials is therefore of particular disappointment.

Click Here to Read PEN's Letter of Appeal

Write a Letter

  • Calling for the immediate release of Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, and the numerous other writers and journalists currently detained in Turkey because of the legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the ICCPR, and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Turkey is a state party;
  • Stating that the charges against the defendants are in violation of their right to freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by both the ICCPR and the ECHR;
  • Requesting that all charges in the case against those who have been released pending trial—Ragip Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan and Büşra Ersanlı—be dropped immediately and unconditionally.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of Justice
Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Ankara
Turkey
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370
Email: sadullahergin@adalet.gov.tr

Please also send a letter to the diplomatic representative for Turkey in your country if possible.

****Please check with PEN if sending appeals after September 7, 2013****
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