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TURKEY: Writer and academic Ragip Zarakolu arrested alongside Professor Büsra Ersanli

Monday 31 October 2011 - 12:00am

RAN 56/11 31 October 2011

The arrest this weekend of publisher Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey’s most prominent freedom of expression and minority rights activists and a leading member of PEN Turkey is greeted with alarm and concern by PEN International. Arrested at the same time was Professor Büsra Ersanli, of the faculty of Political Science at Marmara University. The arrests are part of a larger crackdown initiated in 2009 and still ongoing against Kurdish political parties. PEN is concerned that Zarakolu and Ersanli, alongside several other writers and journalists also detained under this crackdown, are held in denial of their rights to peaceful freedom of expression and association.

Ragip Zarakolu and Professor Büsra Ersanli were arrested on 28 October 2011. Forty one people had also been arrested around the same time under what is known as the Democratic Society Congress (Koma Civaken Kurdistan - KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009 leading to several hundred, some say over 1,000, arrests and trials. The KCK is seen as its civil/political wing front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and thus also illegal.

Human rights groups monitoring the operation have reported concerns over 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. For more on the KCK arrests read a report by the Kurdistan Human Rights Project..

Among the organisations being linked to the KCK is the Peace and Democracy Party (Barish 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 that it does not influence it political 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. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has recently issued an analysis of the BDP and events since its formation in early 2010.


Professor Büsra Ersanli 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.

Ragip 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. See PEN alert.

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

Take Action:
Expressing alarm at the arrests of Ragip Zarakolu, Professor Büsra Ersanli 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