New York City, April 10, 2012—PEN American Center today welcomed the news that Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey’s preeminent free expression champions, was among 15 freed from prison in Turkey pending trial, calling his release “a hopeful sign and a clear indication of the value of international attention and concern.” PEN cautioned, however, that Zarakolu still faces trial on charges that carry a heavy prison sentence and that scores of other writers and intellectuals remain imprisoned.

Ragip Zarakolu is the longtime director of the Belge Publishing House, which for more than three decades has challenged publishing taboos on subjects such as the Armenian genocide and minority rights in Turkey, chair of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the Turkish Publishers Association, and a member of the Turkish PEN Center. Zarakolu was arrested on October 28, 2011, in an ongoing sweep targeting scores of journalists, politicians, and others accused of supporting the new-banned Kurdish Communities Union (KCK). He was indicted on March 19, 2012, under Turkey’s vague anti-terrorism laws for “aiding and abetting an illegal organization,” a charge which could carry a 15-year sentence. Zarakolu was released today along with 14 co-defendants, two days before a delegation of Swedish parliamentarians that nominated Zarakolu for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is due to arrive in Turkey.

Turkey has a history of using overly broad national security and anti-terrorism laws to stifle speech, and PEN has expressed alarm at a resurgence of this trend in the last two years. Dozens of writers and journalists have been jailed in waves of arrests of alleged KCK supporters and of alleged supporters of a right-wing coup attempt. Most remain in prison, including Professor Büsra Ersanli, who stands accused of “leading an illegal organization” and faces up to 22.5 years in prison, Zarakolu’s son Deniz Zarakolu, and 115 others named in the March 19, 2012 indictment.

“We are pleased to welcome our friend and colleague Ragip Zarakolu home after more than five months behind bars at Kocaeli Prison,” said Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “His release is a poignant reminder of the value of international solidarity and pressure, and we thank everyone who has worked on his behalf.”

“Where Ragip’s arrest raised alarms about the Turkish government’s commitment to freedom of expression, we are hoping his release signals the end of a disturbing trend,” Siems added. “We will be working to ensure that the unfounded charges that remain in place are dropped and that he, his son Deniz, Büsra Ersanli, and dozens of others who have done nothing but peacefully express their views are fully acquitted.”

The first hearing in Ragip Zarakolu’s trial is scheduled for July 2. Proceedings could continue for months or even years.

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

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