NEW YORK—The ongoing legal harassment and attempts to extradite the exiled publisher and activist Ragip Zarakolu is an affront to freedom of expression and democratic values, PEN America said in a statement today.

Criminal proceedings in a long-dormant case against Zarakolu, the founder of Belge Publishing House, are set to resume on September 28. The charges stem from a 2011 speech that Zarakolu delivered to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party. Shortly after the speech, he was arrested under Article 220/7 of the penal code for aiding and abetting a terrorist organization, and spent 6 months in jail before being released in April 2012 pending trial. In July 2018, the Third Criminal Court of Istanbul appealed for an Interpol Red Notice to have Zarakolu located, arrested, and extradited by his current country of residence, Sweden. An Interpol Red Notice can lead to severe restrictions on movement, as those named are subject to possible arrest when they travel internationally. Zarakolu’s lawyers have requested that testimony be taken in Swedish courts and sent to Turkey, but the Turkish courts have so far rejected that request. In addition to his publishing career, Zarakolu has long been an activist for human rights, freedom of expression, and minority rights, especially the rights of Armenians and Kurds.

“The use of the judicial system to harass writers, publishers, and journalists has eviscerated freedom of expression in Turkey and has effectively stifled peaceful speech that is seen as unfavorable to the government, or touches on sensitive issues such as Kurdish rights,” noted Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We call on the Turkish authorities to cease their legal and administrative intimidation of Ragip Zarakolu, and to drop the politically-motivated charges against him.”

Over the past year, the climate for free expression in Turkey—already under sustained threat—has dramatically deteriorated. Following an attempted coup in July 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency. Alongside a purging of academics and teachers, dozens of journalists, writers, and activists have been arrested and more than 180 news outlets have been shut down by presidential decree. Turkey now jails the most journalists in the world, with more than 150 behind bars. PEN America’s advocacy in Turkey since the coup has centered on writers and journalists who are in detention or facing unjust charges, and those dealing with extended court cases, travel bans, or other restrictions on movement or expression. 


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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