June 20, 2008

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

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to condemn the conviction of publisher Ragip Zarakolu.

According to our information, Mr. Zarakolu, who runs the Belge Publishing House in Istanbul, was sentenced on June 17, 2008, to five months in prison, commuted to a fine, for “insulting the State” for publishing a Turkish translation of British author George Jerjian’s book The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenians and Turks Reconciled. He was convicted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Mr. Zarakolu was originally charged for publishing Jerjian’s book in December 2004 under Article 159 of the Turkish penal code, which made it illegal to “insult or belittle” various state institutions. That article was replaced in March 2005 with Article 301, a new version of the insult law that conservative prosecutors have since used against dozens of writers, journalists, and publishers in Turkey, including Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk.

Article 301, which prohibits such acts as “insulting Turkishness” and “insulting the memory of Ataturk,” was slightly amended on April 30, 2008, but 29 writers and journalists are still on trial under the article. The court’s action on June 17 came after repeated delays and postponements in the case against Mr. Zarakolu, and seemed to confirm the concerns of writers and publishers inside and outside Turkey that those reforms were more cosmetic than substantive, and that laws designed to suppress discussions of sensitive political topics including the Armenian genocide have not yet been eradicated in Turkey.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Ragip Zarakolu’s conviction is in direct violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the Turkish government is a signatory. We therefore expect that his conviction will be overturned on appeal and hope that all pending prosecutions of writers and publishers under Article 301 will be suspended until the Penal Code is reviewed with the aim of removing all clauses that allow for the conviction of literary professionals solely for the legitimate practice of their profession.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Nabi Şensoy
Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
2525 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 612-6744

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