UPDATE: NOVEMBER 1, 2011—PEN American Center has confirmed that Turkish publisher and PEN member Ragip Zarakolu has been formally arrested under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws and imprisoned pending trial. In all, 23 of the more than 40 activists detained on Friday were charged this morning in a continuing crackdown on Kurdish rights advocates that has seen more than 1,800 members and supporters of the now-banned Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK) party, including hundreds of Kurdish politicians, jailed since 2009. Zarakolu’s attorney has reportedly appealed the charges; if the appeal is not successful, he will be held through the trial process, which will likely last more than a year. Writers, publishers, and free expression advocates around the world are protesting Zarakolu’s arrest, which PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah today called “a disturbing sign of a decline in the climate for free expression in Turkey after several years of hopeful developments.”


New York City, October 31, 2011—PEN American Center is shocked to learn that Ragip Zarakolu, a renowned publisher and a leading advocate for freedom of expression in Turkey, was arrested on October 28, in what PEN calls “a disturbing acceleration of violations of the rights of Turkish and Kurdish activists, writers, and scholars.”

Ragip Zarakolu, director of the Belge Publishing House and a member of the Turkish PEN Center and chair of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the Turkish Publishers Association, was arrested around 6:00 p.m. on October 28, 2011, one of at least 40 activists who were detained in Istanbul on Friday. Turkish authorities have arrested up to 1,000 scholars, writers, publishers, and rights advocates during a two-year crackdown targeting activists who focus on Kurdish issues. This list of those arrested Friday also includes Büşra Ersanlı, a constitutional law expert and a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Zarakolu’s son, Deniz Zarakolu, who is an editor at Belge Publishing House and a Ph.D. student at Bilgi University, was arrested on October 7. It is unclear whether charges have been filed against any of those arrested in Friday’s roundup.

 PEN American Center Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems expressed dismay about the most recent wave of arrests, which comes on the heels of intense military operations against Kurdish rebels after attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) killed 24 Turkish solders earlier this month. “It is essential not to confuse the efforts of those who, like Ragip Zarakolu, have worked to bring down barriers of censorship in Turkey with those who press political agendas through violence,” said Siems. “Zarakolu is an honored PEN colleague and an internationally-recognized defender of the right to write and publish freely. We emphatically protest his arrest.”

Zarakolu’s staunch belief in free expression, his tireless campaign against book bannings, and his courage in publishing works that challenge Turkey’s repressive censorship laws have resulted in a catalog of indictments dating back to the early 1970s. The Belge Publishing House, which Zarakolu founded with his wife Ayse Nur in 1977, has tested Turkish publishing restrictions by translating and publishing controversial books from Armenian, Greek, and Kurdish authors in Turkish editions, including works that documented the Armenian genocide and the experiences of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Zarakolu’s office was firebombed by a right-wing extremist group in 1995, and from 1971 to 1991, Zarakolu was banned from traveling outside Turkey.

Ayse Nur Zarakolu received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 1997. Since her death in 2002, Ragip Zarakolu has faced an ongoing barrage of charges, most recently for publishing Mehmet Güler’s The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State in March 2011.

“Ragip Zarakolu’s arrest is a blow to Turkey’s efforts to create a free and open society,” said poet and essayist Peter Balakian, whose memoir Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past was published in a Turkish edition by Belge. “For over four decades Ragip and his late wife and son have been at the cutting edge of social change in Turkey, publishing books on subjects that the government has deemed taboo—especially subjects dealing with minority issues in Turkey and the histories of minority cultures.”

“Ragip Zarakolu has been honored by almost every leading publishing organization in the world for his courage, his patience, his intellectual rigor, and his pursuit of genuine democracy,” Balakian added.

Writer, historian, and PEN Member Barbara Goldsmith called Zarakolu’s arrest a matter of urgent concern to writers and publishers around the world. “Ragip Zarakolu, who has devoted his life to freedom of thought and expression, human rights, and social justice has been repeatedly imprisoned and his writing banned in Turkey,” Goldsmith said. “If Zarakolu is not given his freedom, then all of us give up our freedom to write. If Zarakolu is not free, then none of us are free.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, 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. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org

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