NEW YORK—The police raid of Belge Publishing House in Istanbul on May 7, allegedly based on a procedural complaint, was a poorly-veiled continuation of the Turkish government’s politically-motivated attacks on publisher Ragip Zarakolu, PEN America said in a statement today.

This Sunday, police searched Belge Publishing House on orders to seize two titles, The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State and More Difficult Decisions Than Death, under the pretense that they lacked banderoles—official government approval labels. During the course of the raid, police prevented employees from leaving the office; temporarily detained editor Mehmet Ali Varis; and seized over 2,000 books, many of which had been published in the 1980s and 1990s and were not included in their orders.

“Raiding a publishing house and confiscating thousands of its books is a disruptive scare tactic clearly aimed at silencing voices that oppose the Erdogan government,” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We urge Turkish authorities to cease their campaign against Ragip Zarakolu and his associates, and to return all property seized under false pretenses.”

In 1977, Ragip Zarakolu and his wife Ayse Nur, a recipient of the 1997 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, founded the Belge Publishing House, which has been a target for censorship since its inception. Its publications, which cover sensitive issues relating to the Kurdish and Armenian minorities, have drawn the government’s (as well as some extremist groups’) ire. Despite his wife’s death in 2002, Zarakolu has continued to publish writings critical of human rights violations around the world, especially in his native Turkey. In August 2016 Turkish police raided Zarakolu’s home, where they also seized books; and in November 2016 he was named one of nine suspects—along with prominent writers Asli Erdogan and Necmiye Alpay, free expression advocates Erol Önderoğlu and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and others—in an indictment accusing them of supporting terrorism in connection with an investigation into the closed daily newspaper Özgür Gündem and its alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).


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.

CONTACT: Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs: +1 646-779-4822,