PEN International is deeply concerned by the refusal of an Istanbul court to release writer, translator, scholar, and women’s rights activist Ayşe Berktay, who has been held in pretrial detention as part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) investigation for nearly two years. Berktay is on trial on what PEN International believes to be trumped-up charges of “membership of a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” Arrested as part of the same investigation in October 2011 is translator and PhD candidate Deniz Zarakolu, who is charged with “leadership of a terrorist organization,” and who also remains in pretrial detention. PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of both writers, neither of whom have any material links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts, and for all charges against them to be dropped.

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Background Information

Ayşe Berktay is a writer, translator, and women’s rights and antiwar activist. Her published work largely centers on the role of women in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. She is the recipient of the 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

Police arrested Ayşe Berktay and raided her home at 5:00 a.m. on October 3, 2011, seizing personal papers and materials, though no arrest or search warrant had been issued. Berktay was eventually charged with "membership of an armed organization" under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code; "membership of a terrorist organization" under Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law; "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law; and "participating in illegal meetings or demonstrations" under Article 23/b of the Meetings and Demonstrations Law.

The anti-terror investigation that Berktay has been implicated in centers around the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), known as the KCK. This investigation has been used by Turkish prosecutors as a means to pursue those with ideological sympathies for and affiliations to Turkey’s pro-Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The prosecutors allege that there is an organizational tie between peaceful civilian actors and armed PKK militants, an argument that appears to stem solely from the fact that they share a joint ideological interest in pursuing greater rights for Turkey’s Kurdish citizens. Berktay is a BDP member, and is one of thousands of peaceful Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civilians in Turkey with no link to violence or the planning of violent acts that have been categorized as terrorist activity in the KCK investigation. According to the indictment, the evidence against her relates to the work she conducted and the meetings and demonstrations she attended on behalf of the BDP.

Deniz Zarakolu is a PhD student at Bilgi University in Istanbul specializing in political thought. He has written books on Thomas Hobbes and the Turkish justice system and has translated Hobbes’ De Cive. In 2002 he was arrested and charged with "inciting revenge or hatred" for a speech he gave at his mother’s funeral. He was subsequently acquitted.

Like Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu was arrested in early October 2011, during a string of raids against Istanbul-based pro-Kurdish intellectuals, eventually being charged with "leadership of an armed organization" under Article 314/1 of the Turkish Penal Code and "leadership of a terrorist organization" under Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law. The evidence listed in the indictment against Zarakolu centers on lectures he gave, particularly those given at the BDP’s Political Science Academy.

Deniz Zarakolu is being tried alongside his father, Ragıp Zarakolu, who has been charged with "knowingly and willing aiding and abetting an illegal organization" under Article 220/7 of the Turkish Penal Code; "membership of an armed organization" under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code via subsection 3 of the same article; and "membership of a terrorist organization" under Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law. Ragıp Zarakolu is one of Turkey’s best known publishers and minority rights activists and is currently free on bail pending the completion of his trial.

Ayşe Berktay and Deniz Zarakolu’s next hearing will run from October 1, 2013, to October 10, 2013. The main KCK trial in Diyarbakir, which includes human rights lawyer and advocate Muharrem Erbey, recommenced on September 23, 2013.The next hearing of another KCK-related trial—of 46 journalists in what is known as the "Press Wing trial"—is set to begin on September 25, 2013.

Write A Letter

Please send appeals IMMEDIATELY:

  • Expressing alarm at the continued detention of Ayşe Berktay and Deniz Zarakolu, held solely because of their alleged affiliation with Kurdish political parties and who have not used or advocated violence;
  • Calling for their immediate and unconditional release from prison, and for all charges against them to be dropped;
  • Referring to concerns that Berktay and Zarakolu are being prosecuted on charges that contravene their right to freedom of expression and association, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory.

Send Your Letter To

Mr. Sadullah Ergin
Ministry of Justice
06669 Kızılay
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 3370

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Turkey in your country if possible.

**Please check with PEN if sending appeals after October 10, 2013, which is the end-date set for the next trial session of these two writers**