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Trials against writers, intellectuals continue amidst Turkey demonstrations

As demonstrations in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey continue, several trials against writers and journalists are still ongoing, some of which opened nearly four years ago. In one of the most recent court hearings, five writers are among 200 defendants in a mass trial of people accused of involvement in the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK). PEN International is deeply disappointed that only one writer was freed, and that the trial against all five continues. Two of the writers will remain in prison for at least three more months. This latest hearing opened on 27 May 2013 and closed two weeks later, on 7 June. The next is set to open on 7 September. PEN firmly believes that the charges against Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, Ragip Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan,and Büşra Ersanlı are in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Turkey has ratified.

Thousands of people are believed to be on trial in Turkey as part of the ongoing Koma Civakên Kurdistan - Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) investigation. The KCK is an alleged umbrella organisation for groups with links to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The crackdown has included pro-Kurdish politicians, lawyers, journalists and intellectuals and has been underway since 2009. Hearings are being held in several courts on different dates. The current trial, of around 200 people including the five writers whose details are given below, is being held at a mass hearing in Silivri Court, some 50km from Istanbul. All are charged under Turkey's Anti Terror Law, yet it is clear that many among the defendants are accused only for their engagement in debates on Kurdish issues, taking part in meetings and other activities that in no way can be seen to promote violence. These include the PEN Honorary Members, all of whom are affiliated to, or have taken part in events organised by, the pro-Kurdish Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), a legal party with 29 representatives in parliament. It is thought that BDP supporters have been brought under the KCK investigation as a means of undermining the party.

PEN International is highlighting five PEN Honorary Members who are among those tried last week. It considers the cases against Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan, Ragip Zarakolu and Büşra Ersanlı to be seriously flawed and that the charges against them are in direct violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association. PEN International is calling for the charges against them to be dismissed. It is particularly concerned that two of the five are still in prison, and urges that they be released.

The five PEN Honorary Members are:

  • Ayşe Berktay: academic, author, translator and founding member of the World Tribunal on Iraq. Arrested on 3 October 2011 she remains in prison. She is accused of ‘membership of an illegal organisation’ for allegedly ‘planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilising the state’. She could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
  • Deniz Zarakolu: author, translator and PhD candidate, was arrested in October 2011 and has also been detained ever since. Charged with “membership of an illegal organisation” for giving lectures on political philosophy for the BDP, Zarakolu faces up to 12 years in prison.
  • Mulazim Ozcan: Kurdish poet, linguist and consultant at Ragip Zarakolu’s publishing house (see below), he was arrested in October 2011 and released on 7 June 2013 pending trial. It is believed that his charges are linked to a lecture he gave on the Kurdish language to the BDP.
  • Ragip Zarakolu: publisher who is one of Turkey’s most prominent free expression activists and father of Deniz Zarakolu, above. Arrested in October 2011, he was released in April 2012 pending trial and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted as charged for ‘aiding and abetting an illegal organisation’. He is accused of making speeches for the BDP and writing for a pro-Kurdish newspaper.
  • Professor Büşra Ersanlı: respected academic and political scientist, also arrested in October 2011, and freed pending trial in July 2012. She could receive a sentence of up to 22 ½ years if convicted on charges of ‘leading an illegal organisation’. An elected member of the BDP’s Party Assembly, at the time of her arrest she was advising the BDP on constitutional reform.

PEN International has a long history of engagement and interest in Turkey, In November 2012, a PEN International delegation to Turkey met with President Abdullah Gül, Minister for European Union Affairs, Egemen Bağis and others to raise PEN International's concerns about the large numbers of writers who are detained and on trial. PEN International welcomed the opportunity to have an open and frank exchange on the state of free expression in Turkey, and the assurances that measures were being taken to improve the situation. The continuance of these trials is therefore of particular disappointment.


Send letters of appeal

  • Calling for the immediate release of Ayşe Berktay and Deniz Zarakolu and the numerous other writers and journalists currently detained in Turkey because of their legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a state party;
  • Stating that the charges against the defendants are in violation of their 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 Rights;
  • Requesting that the charges in this case against those who have been released pending trial - Ragip Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan and Büşra Ersanlı - be dropped immediately and unconditionally.

Send appeals to:
Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370
Email: [email protected]

Also send appeals to the Turkish ambassador in your own country.

Please contact this office if sending appeals after 7 September 2013.

For further information please contact Ann Harrison at PEN International 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: [email protected]

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