New York, June 19, 2008—PEN American Center and the International Freedom to Publish Committee of the Association of American Publishers today denounced the “clearly wrongful” and “anachronistic and discouraging” conviction of Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu. Zarakolu, who runs the Belge Publishing House in Istanbul, was sentenced yesterday to a 5-month prison term 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. The sentence was reportedly subsequently commuted to a fine.

Zarakolu was originally hauled into court 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 the now-infamous 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 nebulous acts as “insulting Turkishness” and “insulting the memory of Ataturk” was supposedly amended in April of this year. But 29 writers and journalists are still on trial under Article 301 and Tuesday’s action, coming after repeated delays and postponements in the case against Zarakolu, 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.

“We condemn this clearly wrongful conviction of our friend and colleague Ragip Zarakolu, and we believe strongly that it should, and will, be overturned on appeal,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “We salute Mr. Zarakolu for his commitment to defending the right of all Turkish citizens to question and criticize official narratives and histories, and we will continue to stand with him and all his colleagues who are working to preserve and expand free expression in Turkey. Though his conviction seems to be a discouraging setback in the struggle to expand free expression protections in Turkey, we do believe it should be viewed as an embarrassing anachronism, one that should serve to spur further, necessary revisions to Article 301.”

“The International Freedom to Publish Committee and the Association of American Publishers join in the international condemnation of Mr. Zarakolu’s conviction, which clearly exposes that the punitive Article 301 is still being used to suppress freedom of expression in this and many other cases,” added Hal Fessenden, Chair of the International Freedom to Publish Committee. “We fully support him in his appeal of this conviction and ongoing efforts of the human rights community to repeal Article 301 in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. The Association of American Publishers is the national trade organization of the U.S. book publishing industry. The International Freedom to Publish Committee of the AAP defends publishers and monitors and confronts threats to freedom of expression around the world.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105