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TURKEY: Publisher Ragip Zarakolu Back on Trial Again, Alongside Writer Mehmet Güler

Wednesday 21 July 2010 - 1:00am

RAN 43/10 21 July 2010

Ragip Zarakolu, publisher and free expression activist is on trial again for publishing another book by author Mehmet Güler. Both Zarakolu and Güiler are accused under the Anti Terror Law for Güler's The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State. Zarakolu was acquitted last month for publishing another book by Güler, More Difficult Decisions Than Death, for which the author received a 15 months sentence. Once again the two men are charged with publishing statements seen to support the banned Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK). The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN is disappointed to learn that Ragip Zarakolu is once again being tried in contravention of international standards safeguarding the right to freedom of expression, and that Mehmet Güler faces further charges.

On 20 July 2010, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor opened the trial against Zarakolu and Güler under Article 7 of the Anti Terror law for the book The KCK file/The Global State and Kurds Without a State. The first hearing is due on 30 September. The book was presented at the Diyabakir Book Fair, South Eastern Turkey, in May 2010, where it was seized by police, and subsequently banned. Zaraklolu and Güler deny the accusation that the book promotes violence and state that they are both committed to greater understanding about and a peaceful resolution to Kurdish issues. Zarakolu describes the book as a work of research of some 250 pages, of which 1000 had been printed, and denied that it can be construed as propaganda. Güler commented that his book studies issues such as the closure of Kurdish political parties and the arrests of activists and members of city councils in the past year, adding that he "...tried to give a short history of the Kurdish question, without being a supporter or an opponent for any side. ... All citizens have a right to information about what is happening and I tried to be objective".

On 10 June 2010, Zarakolu was acquitted for having published Guler's novel More Difficult Decisions than Death on charges under article 7/2 of the Anti Terror Law for "spreading propaganda" for the banned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). Three fictional characters, "Siti", "Sabri" and "Siyar" are engaged with PKK activities. In one part of the book a PKK member on trial says "This court has no right to judge me. I fight for freedom. I do not recognise this court". The fictional judge's response and following passages form part of the indictment. The prosecutor stated that some parts of the novel evoke sympathy for the PKK in its readers. Güler responded that he believes that one way to tackle problems in Turkey is through literature, saying it is "the best way to deal with social trauma". The trial opened in May 2009 and just over a year later, it concluded with Zarakolu's acquittal, and a 15 month sentence for Güler who is free pending appeal - the date of which has yet to be set.

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.