Turkey: Mark International Women’s Day by dropping charges against Ayşe Berktay, Büşra Ersanlı and Zeynep Kuray
To mark 8 March International Women’s Day, PEN International is calling on authorities in Turkey to drop all charges against Ayşe Berktay, Büşra Ersanlı and Zeynep Kuray, three women caught up in a wide-reaching anti-terror probe into Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society in Turkey. The indictments against all three women variously accuses them of leadership and membership of a terrorist organisation described as the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK)while failing to demonstrate any material or causal links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts. The three women are amongst thousands of suspects – including scores of writers, journalists, academics, politicians, publishers, lawyers and human rights activists – facing lengthy prison terms as a result of the ongoing investigation into the KCK. PEN International calls on the Turkish authorities to ensure that the cases against the three are brought to an end immediately and all charges relating solely to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association are dropped.
Ayşe Berktay is a writer, translator, women’s rights and anti-war activist. Her published work largely centres on the role of women in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. Click here and here to read some of her work in English.
Police arrested Ayşe Berktay and raided her home at 5:00 a.m. on 3 October, 2011, seizing personal papers and materials, though no arrest or search warrant had been issued. Berktay was eventually charged with ‘membership of an armed organisation’under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code; ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law; ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law; and ‘participating in illegal meetings or demonstrations’ under Article 23/b of the Meetings and Demonstrations Law.
The work she conducted and the meetings and demonstrations she attended on behalf of BDP form the only evidence against her.
After over two years in pre-trial detention, Berktay was finally released pending trial in December 2013. Her next hearing is set to be heard on 3 April 2014.
To mark the 2012 International Women’s Day, PEN Turkey jointly awarded Ayşe Berktay the Duygu Asena Award with fellow KCK defendant Büşra Ersanlı. She was also awarded PEN American Center’s2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
Professor Büşra Ersanlı is a Turkish academic and political scientist specialising in nationalism, historiography, political theory, and Kurdish political participation, politics and language rights. Click here to read some of her work in English.
In October 2011, Ersanlı was arrested alongside publisher Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey’s most prominent freedom of expression activists and a leading member of PEN Turkey. Following her arrest, Büşra Ersanlı was detained for five months before being formally charged with ‘leadership of an armedorganisation’ under Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code, ‘leadership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law and ‘making propaganda for an illegal organisation’ under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law on 19 March 2012. The Istanbul Public Prosecutor who issued the indictment demanded that she serve between 15 and 22.5 years in prison.
Ersanlı’s detention was met with widespread condemnation in Turkey. A prominent academic who had spoken out against the measures taken to disenfranchise Islamic conservatives in the wake of the 28 February 1997 ‘postmodern coup’, she was a widely respected, non-partisan advocate for democratisation in Turkey. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was among those to question her involvement in the KCK investigation when, during a press conference in Paris on 9 July 2012, he stated:
Ms. Büşra is an academic who took a very democratic position on 28 February . I do not believe she is a terrorist. However, my objection to this situation as a minister does not give me the right to intervene in [her] trial.
Just days later, on 13 July 2012, following the first KCK hearing in a court in Silivri prison, Ersanlı was released pending trial alongside 15 other defendants. Her next hearing is set to be heard on 3 April 2014.
To mark the 2012 International Women’s Day, PEN Turkey jointly awarded Büşra Ersanlı the Duygu Asena Award with fellow KCK defendant Ayşe Berktay. She also received an award from PEN Netherlands in September 2012, and was a recipient of the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression in 2013.
Zeynep Ceren Kuray is an investigative journalist who worked as a columnist for left-wing daily BirGün and as a correspondent for Fırat News Agency prior to her arrest. She is known for tackling controversial issues, including the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish army, the prosecution of journalists critical of the Gülen movement, political corruption and poor industrial working conditions.
Arrested in December 2011, Zeynep Kuray is one of the 44 journalists dubbed the KCK ‘press wing’ currently on trial in Turkey. She is charged with ‘membership of an armed organisation’ under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law. However, the indictment against her shows no evidence of material links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts, instead making references to telephone conversations she had with other journalists, articles she wrote about the alleged sexual harassment of female Turkish Airlines employees, and an investigative piece questioning whether chemical weapons had been used against PKK fighters by the Turkish army.
She was released pending trial on 26 April 2013 after 16 months in pre-trial detention. Her latest hearing began on 3 March 2014.
About the KCK Investigation
The anti-terror investigation that the three women have been implicated in centres around the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), known as KCK. This investigation has been used by Turkish prosecutors as a means to pursue those with ideological sympathies for and affiliations to Turkey’s pro-Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The prosecutors allege that there is an organisational tie between peaceful civilian actors and armed PKK militants, an argument which appears to stem solely from the fact that they share a joint ideological interest in pursuing greater rights for Turkey’s Kurdish citizens. Berktay and Ersanlı are BDP members, while Kuray has worked for a news agency known for its BDP sympathies. They are amongst thousands of peaceful Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civilians in Turkey that have been categorised as engaging in terrorist activity during the KCK investigation, although there is no substantive evidence of them having been involved in planning or carrying out violent actsPEN International believes that the charges against Berktay, Ersanlı, Kuray, Erbey, R. Zarakolu and D. Zarakolu constitute a violation of Turkey’s international obligations as a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), and calls for an end to the trials faced by all of them and for all charges relating to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression to be dropped.
- 1. Write articles, blogs and op-ed pieces protesting the continuing trials against Ayşe Berktay, Büşra Ersanlı and Zeynep Kuray to mark 8 March International Women’s Day.
- 2. HIghlight the cases of these three women or any articles you write in a letter to your nearest Turkish embassy, your country’s embassy in Turkey and the Turkey desk of your government’s foreign office.
- 3. Share this appeal case with your networks, including on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
- 4. Send appeals to the Minister of Justice in Turkey, demanding that all charges against the three which relate solely to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association are dropped immediately and unconditionally.
Send Appeals to:
Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ
Milli Müdafaa Caddesi No: 22
Fax: +90 312 419 33 70
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Please let us know of any action you take and of any responses you receive from officials by emailing PEN International’s Turkey Researcher Alev.Yaman@pen-international.org.