PEN International Vice President, Eugene Schoulgin, and Deputy Director, Sara Whyatt, will be observing alongside members of PEN Turkey as the second Union of Communities in Kurdistan (Koma Civaken Kurdistan – KCK) trials get underway in Istanbul on Monday 2 July 2012. PEN will be leading the call for solidarity and support for three of the key defendants on trial: publisher and human rights activist, Ragıp Zarakolu; university professor and political scientist, Büşra Ersanlı; and translator and academic, Ayşe Berktay.
The three face sentences of 7.5 to 22.5 years in prison if found guilty as charged under the Anti Terror Law (ATL). Zarakolu, who has had a long history of legal battles with the Turkish authorities for his publications, is accused of ‘aiding and abetting an illegal organisation’. Ersanlı, who has written on minority rights in Turkey and has provided advice on constitutional issues to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is accused of ‘leadership of an illegal organisation’. Berktay, an academic and translator specialising in Kurdish issues, is accused of taking part in KCK’s ‘overseas operations’ through her attendance at events, such as the World Social Forum and the European Network for Peace and Human Rights. All three were arrested in October 2011, and while Zarakolu was released pending trial in April 2012 the two women remain imprisoned in Istanbul’s Bakırköy Women’s Prison.
For more information on these cases please see the PEN International website.
The KCK Investigation
The KCK investigation, underway since April 2009, has led to the detention of over 8,000 suspects under the ATL, approximately 4,000 of whom have been placed on pre-trial detention, according to Turkish human rights monitors such as www.bianet.org. Suspects are accused of membership of the KCK, the alleged political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in armed conflict with the Turkish state since 1984. PEN estimates that over 90 writers, journalists or publishers are under investigation under the ATL, most of them related to the KCK investigation.
Critics of the investigation have dubbed it a crackdown on newspapers, journalists, writers, publishers and lawyers with Kurdish sympathies; allegedly prompted by the failure of the government’s attempts to diffuse conflict with the PKK via its ‘Kurdish Initiative’ (which involved various democratization projects). The arrests have raised alarm in Turkey and internationally, as the ATL appears to be being used to suppress legitimate commentary and activities. PEN is concerned that many of these writers and journalists – who potentially face decades in prison – are subjected to lengthy pre-trial detention despite little or no evidence of material support for terrorism or of involvement in plotting or carrying out any acts of violence.
PEN is monitoring the cases of around 130 writers and journalists in Turkey who are detained or on trial either for their writings or for their political activities. They include writers and journalists accused of participating in the propaganda wing of Ergenekon, an alleged pro-military junta conspiracy. Critics have suggested that there is little evidence to justify such accusations, and that two of the most prominent of those on trial, writers Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener in particular have been targeted for their exposés of the allegedly unhealthy influence of the Gülen movement (a liberal Muslim movement with strong ties to the government and pro-government media) within the ranks of the Turkish police and judiciary. Both were released from prison pending trial in March 2012. They had published books exposing military involvement in the Ergenekon conspiracy well before their arrests, and have been highly critical of past military coups in their work.
Obscenity laws are being applied against publishers of books seen to be “not compatible with the morals of society”, notably the trial being pursued against Sel Publishing House for the publication of a Turkish translation of the American author William S. Burroughs’ novel, The Soft Machine. Incitement to religious hatred charges are also being used against writers and publishers, such as the case brought against Semih and Müge Sökmen of Metis Publishing House for the publication of a calendar titled Illallah (a pun on an Islamic expression meaning ‘God! I’ve had enough!’). The calendar has a pro-Atheist tone and contains quotations from George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein and James Joyce. Another prominent case is that of the pianist, composer, writer and EU Culture Ambassador, Fazıl Say, who is also under investigation for comments that he posted on social media site Twitter.
In Istanbul (2-5 July):
Eugene Schoulgin, Vice President mobile: + 90 542 647 0745
Sara Whyatt, Deputy Director mobile: + 90 543 419 9938
PEN International Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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