April 6, 2010

Mr Sadullah Ergin

Minister of Justice
06669 Kizil
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the continuing trial of publisher and PEN American Center Honorary Member Ragip Zarakolu and author Mehmet Güler.

According to our information, a court case was initiated in May 2009 against Ragip Zarakolu, founder of the Belge Publishing House, for publishing a novel by N. Mehmet Güler. The book, More Difficult Decisions Than Death, led to charges against both men under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law for “spreading propaganda” for the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The prosecutor initially stated that some parts of the novel evoke sympathy for the PKK in its readers, but at a hearing on November 19, 2009, the prosecutor pointed out that no crime had been committed and called for the two to be released. However, at the next hearing on March 25, 2010, another prosecutor expressed the opposite view—that the book does provide terrorist propaganda. The trial was adjourned until June 10, 2010, when the verdict may be announced.
Ragip Zarakolu, aged 62, is a long-time Turkish publisher and human rights activist. He has been subjected to many years of harassment, trials and detentions since the 1970s for publishing books on issues including minority and human rights. The Belge Publishing House, which Zarakolu founded with his wife Ayse Nur in 1977, has put Turkish censorship laws to the test by translating and publishing controversial books from Armenian and Greek authors into the Turkish language. Zarakolu’s office was firebombed by a right-wing extremist group in 1995, forcing it to be housed in a cellar. From 1971 to 1991, Zarakolu was banned from traveling outside Turkey.

Zarakolu founded Demokrat, a newspaper that was banned after the military coup in 1980, and was one of the 98 founders of the Human Rights Association in Turkey. For some time he chaired the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN in Turkey and is the chairperson of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the Turkish Publishers Association.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Ragip Zarakolu and Mehmet Güler are being tried in violation of their right to freedom of expression as protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). We hope the two men will be granted a full acquittal, and that the Turkish government will take this opportunity to reconsider how it handles cases of freedom of expression and to review all relevant laws with a by bringing them into accord with international human rights standards, in particular the ICCPR and ECHR, to which Turkey is a signatory.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent 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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