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IPA and WiPC condemn conviction of publisher over book on Armenian question

(IPA/WiPC/IFEX) - The following is a 19 June 2008 joint IPA and WiPC press release:

Article 301 TPC: International writers and publishers strongly condemn the sentencing of Publisher Ragip Zarakolu for "insulting the State"

Geneva, London 19 June 2008 - The International Publishers Association (IPA) and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN strongly condemn the sentencing of publisher Ragip Zarakolu in Istanbul on 17 June 2008 for "insulting the State" (Article 301 TPC) to a five-month prison sentence, reduced to a fine.

The organisations are especially alarmed that this is the first conviction since this article was slightly amended on 30 April 2008, after over 1,000 people, including writers, publishers and journalists, have been brought to the courts in the three years since its inception in 2005. IPA and PEN have been calling for the repeal of this law ever since it was presented in draft form, and are deeply disappointed that rather than remove this legislation, the amendments are simply cosmetic.

Around 29 writers and journalists are on trial today under Article 301. They are among a total of 79 charged under a range of laws that impinge on the right to free speech, including Article 318 that has led numerous commentators on conscientious objection to the courts, and a raft of articles under Anti-Terror legislation and against "incitement" that have been used against writers on the Kurdish issues. There is clearly much more to do to bring Turkey in line with its international requirements that safeguard free expression.

Ragip Zarakolu, recipient of the 2008 IPA Freedom to Publish Prize and an Honorary Member of several PEN Centres worldwide, has said that he will appeal the sentence and is determined to go as far as the European Court of Human Rights, if need be. IPA and PEN support him in demanding that he be acquitted on appeal and urge the Turkish Judiciary to complete this trial swiftly, efficiently and fairly.

The case leading to the conviction of Ragip Zarakolu was initiated in December 2004 for the publication of London-based author George Jerjian's book, entitled: "The truth will set us free/Armenians and Turks reconciled". The first hearing of this case took place in Istanbul on 16 March 2005 and since then there have been more than ten hearings. Ragip Zarakolu was originally charged under Article 159 TPC, which criminalized acts that "insult or belittle" various state institutions. This article was abolished in 2005 and replaced with the now notorious Article 301. In some cases, defendants on trial under Article 159 benefited from the changes by having their cases closed, but this was not so for Zarakolu. Instead, he found that his trial continued under the new law. When Article 301 was slightly amended on 30 April 2008, Zarakolu hoped that this time the case would be dropped, or at the very least referred to the Ministry of Justice for review as now provided under the amendments. However, the judge ruled that, as Zarakolu was tried under the old Penal Code Article 159, the new amendments do not pertain.

Observers believe that Zarakolu is being singled out by the more conservative elements of the judiciary because of his decades of struggle for freedom of expression, and particularly his promotion of minority rights. Throughout his life, Ragip Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of long, time-consuming and expensive court hearings. The conduct of the trial in itself took the form of harassment and punishment against the defendant for daring to produce works that touch on sensitive issues, such as the Armenian question, and Kurdish and minority rights.

The sentencing of Ragip Zarakolu shows that the recent cosmetic change to Article 301 TPC was not enough to put an end to freedom of expression trials in Turkey. Turkish legislation (new Article 301, Law 5816, etc.) must be amended or repealed to meet international standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Ragip Zarakolu will be awarded the 2008 IPA Freedom to Publish in Amsterdam on 18 September 2008 during the opening ceremony of the International Seminar on Neo-censorship (18-20 September 2008). This seminar is part of the Amsterdam World Book Capital 2008 programme. For more about the seminar, please see:

IPA, established in Paris in 1896, represents the publishing industry worldwide through 65 national, regional and specialised publishers associations in 53 countries. International PEN was founded in 1921 in London. It is represented worldwide through 140 centres in over 100 countries. Both organisations are accredited Non-Governmental Organisations enjoying consultative status to the United Nations and seek to promote and defend the fundamental freedoms to publish, to read and to write, defending the rights of authors and publishers to create and distribute intellectual works in complete freedom.


Send appeals to the Turkish prime minister:
- expressing alarm at the conviction of Ragip Zarakolu on charges that are in direct denial of his right to freedom of expression
- pointing out that Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code is not compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which protect the right to free expression and to which Turkey is a signatory
- referring to the existence of numerous other laws in Turkey that are used against writers and journalists in the legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression
- calling for there to be a further review of Turkish legislation to remove from its remit all possibility of trials and convictions that breach the international standards to which Turkey is committed


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
06573 Ankara
Fax: +90 312 417 0476

Please copy appeals to the source if possible, and to the Turkish ambassador in your own country. To find the address:

Updates the Zarakolu case arising from George Jerjian's book:

PEN International

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