International PEN condemns the sentencing of publisher Ragip Zarakolu in Istanbul on June 17 for “insulting the State” (Article 301, Turkish Penal Code). This is the first conviction since this article was slightly amended on April 30, 2008. Over 1,000 people, including writers, publishers, and journalists, have been brought to the courts in the three years since its 2005 inception. PEN has been been calling for the repeal of this law ever since it was presented in draft form, and believes its amendments to be simply cosmetic.

About 29 writers and journalists are on trial today under Article 301. They are among a total of 79 charged under a range of laws that impinge on the right to free speech, including Article 318, which has brought numerous commentators on conscientious objection to the courts, and a raft of articles under antiterrorism legislation and against “incitement” that have been used against writers on Kurdish issues.

More information:

Writer Profile: Ragip Zarakolu
PEN, Publishers Decry Conviction of Ragip Zarakolu in Turkey
Call for a Repeal of Article 301 in Turkey


Background Information

Ragip Zarakolu, recipient of the 2008 IPA Freedom to Publish Prize and an Honorary Member of several PEN Centers has said that he will appeal the sentence and is determined to go as far as the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. PEN demands that Zarakolu be acquitted in appeal and urges the Turkish judiciary to complete this trial swiftly, efficiently, and fairly.

The case against Ragip Zarakolu was initiated in December 2004 for the publication of London-based author George Jerjian's book The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenians and Turks Reconciled. The first hearing of Zarakolu's case took place in Istanbul on March 16, 2005, and there have been more than 10 hearings since then.

Zarakolu was originally charged under Article 159, which criminalizes acts that "insult or belittle" various state institutions. This article was abolished in 2005 and replaced with Article 301. Some defendants on trial under Article 159 benefited from the changes by having their cases closed, but Zarakolu's trial continued. When Article 301 was amended slightly on April 30, 2008, Zarakolu hoped that the case would be dropped or referred to the Ministry of Justice for review as provided under the amendments. However, the judge ruled that since Zarakolu was tried under the old Penal Code Article 159, the new amendments do not pertain.

Observers believe that Zarakolu is being singled out by the more conservative elements of the judiciary because of his decades of struggle for freedom of expression, and particularly his promotion of minority rights. Throughout his life, Ragip Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of time-consuming and expensive court hearings. Conduct during the trials has included harrassment and punishment of the defendant for daring to produce work that touches on sensitive issues such as the Armenian question and minority rights.

The condemnation of Ragip Zarakolu shows that the recent change to Article 301 was not enough to put an end to freedom of expression trials in Turkey. Turkish legislation (new Article 301, Law 5816, etc.) must be amended or repealed to meet international standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Write A Letter

  • expressing alarm at the conviction of Ragip Zarakolu on charges that are in direct denial of his right to freedom of expression;
  • confiriming that Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code is not compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights or Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which protect the right to free expression and include Turkey as a signatory;
  • expressing concern about other laws in Turkey that are used against writers and journalists in the legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression;
  • calling for further review of Turkish legislation to remove all possibility of trials and convictions that breach the international standards to which Turkey is committed.

Send Your Letter To

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Office of the Prime Minister
06573 Ankara
Fax: +90 312 417 0476

Please send appeals to the Turkish ambassador in your country.