Home Page > News Item > TURKEY: Ragip Zarakolu releases public letter from prison

RAN 56/11 Update #2 October 2011

Writer, academic and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu released an open letter from prison on 2 November 2011 through his lawyer. In the letter, which is reprinted below, Zarakolu, pictured speaking at a PEN event during the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, was arrested on 29 October 2011 and has been formally charged with “membership of an illegal organisation”. He is detained alongside over 40 other opposition activists, including writer and academic Professor Büşra Ersanlı.

Open letter from Ragıp Zarakolu:

My arrest and the accusations of being a member of an illegal organisation are part of a campaign to intimidate all intellectuals and democrats living in Turkey and, more specifically, to isolate Kurds.

The police forces that searched my home found nothing more than what you would normally find in a writer’s home and confiscated these items as ‘evidence’.

Among these items were Habiba by Ender Öndeş, a book that is published and freely sold in Turkey, the second volume of Doğan Özgüden’s Vatansız Gazeteciler (Stateless Journalists), Barış Süreci (Peace Process) by Yüksel Genç, notes prepared for the publication of Alman Belgelerinde Ermeni Soykırımı (The Armenian Genocide according to German Sources), a short piece I had prepared for the back cover of former CHP (Republican People’s Party) MP Sırrı Özbek’’s latest book and a draft of a work called Ermeni Sözlü Tarih Çalışması (Armenian Oral History Project)

The government must give an explanation for why I was arrested only a week before I was due to travel to a conference in Berlin and, from there, to conferences at Colgate University (USA) and in Los Angeles and Michigan.

Under custody, I was deprived of all of my bank and credit cards, which are being kept by the authorities.

It is yet unclear when I will be able to exercise my right to trial, and it is evident that this state of affairs may last for months.

I have not been asked a single question regarding the organisation I am accused of being a member of; rather, I have only been pressed on works that I have written or edited, speeches I have given, and free and public meetings I have attended.

I believe that it is time to show a collective opposition to this wave of arrests, which has become a campaign of mass lynching, and that all moves by the authorities that go against the law and principles of due legal process must now cease.

With my greetings and my regards,
Ragıp Zarakolu

Translated by Ali Nihat
[Note: the views expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PEN International.]

Ragıp Zarakolu and Professor Büşra Ersanlı were arrested on 29 October 2011. Forty one people had been arrested the previous day under what is known as the Koma Civaken Kurdistan – trans Democratic Society Congress – (KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009 leading to several hundred, some say over 1,000, arrests and trials. The KCK is accused of being a front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), seen as its civil/political wing and thus also illegal.

Human rights groups monitoring the operation have reported concerns on a number of areas including lengthy pre-trial detention without bail (some have been held pending trial since the start of the operation in April 2009), that the charges may be politically motivated, and that fair trial standards are being ignored. Trade union and human rights activists, mayors and local politicians are among those arrested.

Among the organisations seen to be linked to the KCK is the Peace and Democracy Party (Turkish Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi) (BDP). Thirty BDP representatives took their seats in the Turkish parliament on 1 October, among them longstanding Kurdish rights activist, Leyla Zana, a former PEN case. The BDP was created after the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was forcibly closed down in 2009 on accusation of affiliation to the PKK. The BDP has made it clear that is not affiliated to the PKK and holds its own independent policy. Despite this BDP and former DTP members have been arrested and harassed. Some activists claim that over 1,000 have been arrested on charges ranging from speaking Kurdish, making statements critical of the government, as well as having links to the KCK.

Professor Büşra Ersanlı is an academic based at Istanbul’s Marmara university’s Faculty of Political Science and International Relations. She is an expert on constitutional law and at the time of her arrest was working with the BDP’s Constitutional Commission.

Ragıp Zarakolu is a well known political activist who has been fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey for over 30 years, publishing books on issues such as 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. In the days running up to his arrest, he had been campaigning for the release of his son, Deniz Zarakolu, who had been arrested three weeks earlier on 7 October, also under the KCK operation. Deniz is a PhD student of political thought and has translated academic works including Thomas Hobbes’ De Cive.

Among the early KCK operation arrests was Muharrem Erbey, lawyer, writer and Turkey PEN, arrested in December 2009 who is still detained, and his trial is underway. Representatives from PEN Centres have observed his trial.

PEN is monitoring the cases of several other writers similarly arrested for links to Kurdish political parties.

For more information read RAN 56/11 and RAN 56/11 Update #1

Take Action:
Expressing alarm at the arrests of Ragıp Zarakolu, Professor Büşra Ersanlı and Deniz Zarakolu, as well as the continued detention of Muharrem Erbey, and other writers and journalists accused for their affiliation with Kurdish political parties.

Referring to concerns that the arrests flout international standards protecting the rights to freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.

Raising concerns that the trial are politically biased and do not conform to fair trial standards, and seeking assurances that these concerns are addressed as a matter of urgency.

Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

Also to the Turkish ambassador in your country.

Please contact the PEN WiPC office in London if sending appeals after 30 November 2011.

The translation of Ragip Zarakolu’s open letter is courtesy of Ali Nihat, press@pen-international.org

For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at PEN International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel. + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: sara.whyatt@pen-internationalpen.org