Home Page > News Item > TURKEY: Publisher and Human Rights Activist Faces Imprisonment

RAN 27/10 – Update #1 27 May 2010

Ragip Zarakolu, publisher and human rights activist, who has been subject to harassment, trials and periods of imprisonment since the 1970s, is expecting a verdict at his next trial hearing in two weeks, on 10 June 2010. On trial in Turkey since May 2009, Zarakolu faces a prison sentence of more than seven years for publishing the novel More difficult Decisions than Death written by N. Mehment Güler. Both Zarakolu and Güler are accused under article 7/2 of the Anti Terror Law of “spreading propaganda” for the banned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). If Zarakolu is convicted on 10 June, International PEN will consider Turkey to be in breach of its obligations under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ragip Zarakolu, aged 62, has been fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey for over 30 years, publishing books on issues including minority and human rights. As one of the 50 writers chosen to represent the struggle for freedom of expression since 1960 for the Writers in Prison Committee’s 50th Anniversary Campaign – Because Writers Speak Their Minds – Zarakolu’s case is emblematic of the ongoing struggles many writers, publishers and freedom of expression and human rights activists in Turkey continue to face.

After a military coup in 1971, Zarakolu was among large numbers of writers who were arrested. He served three years in prison for his refusal to abandon his campaign for freedom of thought, striving for an “attitude of respect for different thoughts and cultures to become widespread in Turkey.” Since his writings were repeatedly banned in Turkey, Zarakolu began to turn his attention to abuses of human rights by governments in South America and elsewhere. For twenty years, between 1971 and 1991, Zarakolu was banned from travelling outside Turkey.

In 1977 Zarakolu and his wife, Ayse Nur, set up the Belge Publishing House. Since then, Zarakolu has put Turkish censorship laws to the test by translating and publishing controversial books from Armenian and Greek authors into the Turkish language. As a result, Zarakolu has been sentenced to imprisonment several times. Prior to the military coup of September 1980 Belge mostly published academic and theoretical books. After the coup, Belge started to publish a series of books written by political prisoners. Zarakolu’s office was firebombed by an extremist rightist group in 1995, forcing it to be housed in a cellar. Zarakolu’s staunch belief in freedom of expression, his vocal campaign against book bannings, and his persistence in publishing works that violate Turkey’s repressive censorship laws have resulted in a catalog of indictments against him.

Zarakolu founded Demokrat, a newspaper which was banned after the military coup in 1980, and was one of the 98 founders of the Human Rights Association in Turkey. For some time he chaired the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN in Turkey and is the chairperson of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the Turkish Publishers Association.

International PEN urges the court to take into consideration Turkey’ obligations under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights when considering Zarakolu’s case.