Writer, academic and publisher Ragip Zarakolu released an open letter from prison on November 2, 2011, through his lawyer. Zarakolu was arrested on October 29, 2011, and has been formally charged with “membership of an illegal organization.” He is detained alongside over 40 other opposition activists, including writer and academic Professor Büşra Ersanlı.

Background Information

Open letter from Ragip Zarakolu:

My arrest and the accusations of being a member of an illegal organisation are part of a campaign to intimidate all intellectuals and democrats living in Turkey and, more specifically, to isolate Kurds.

The police forces that searched my home found nothing more than what you would normally find in a writer’s home and confiscated these items as ‘evidence’.

Among these items were Habiba by Ender Öndeş, a book that is published and freely sold in Turkey, the second volume of Doğan Özgüden’s Vatansız Gazeteciler (Stateless Journalists), Barış Süreci (Peace Process) by Yüksel Genç, notes prepared for the publication of Alman Belgelerinde Ermeni Soykırımı (The Armenian Genocide according to German Sources), a short piece I had prepared for the back cover of former CHP (Republican People’s Party) MP Sırrı Özbek'’s latest book and a draft of a work called Ermeni Sözlü Tarih Çalışması (Armenian Oral History Project).

The government must give an explanation for why I was arrested only a week before I was due to travel to a conference in Berlin and, from there, to conferences at Colgate University (USA) and in Los Angeles and Michigan.

Under custody, I was deprived of all of my bank and credit cards, which are being kept by the authorities.

It is yet unclear when I will be able to exercise my right to trial, and it is evident that this state of affairs may last for months.

I have not been asked a single question regarding the organisation I am accused of being a member of; rather, I have only been pressed on works that I have written or edited, speeches I have given, and free and public meetings I have attended.

I believe that it is time to show a collective opposition to this wave of arrests, which has become a campaign of mass lynching, and that all moves by the authorities that go against the law and principles of due legal process must now cease.

With my greetings and my regards,
Ragip Zarakolu

[Note: the views expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PEN.]
Ragip Zarakolu and Professor Büşra Ersanlı were arrested on October 28, 2011. Forty-one people had also been arrested around the same time under what is known as the Democratic Society Congress (Koma Civaken Kurdistan—KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009, leading to several hundred, some say over 1,000, arrests and trials. The KCK is seen as the civil/political wing front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and thus also illegal.
Human rights groups monitoring the operation have reported concerns in a number of areas, including lengthy pre-trial detention without bail (some have been held pending trial since the start of the operation in April 2009), charges that may be politically motivated, and fair trial standards being ignored. Trade union and human rights activists, mayors and local politicians are among those arrested. For more on the KCK arrests, read a report by the Kurdistan Human Rights Project.
Among the organizations being linked to the KCK is the Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi—BDP). Thirty BDP representatives took their seats in the Turkish parliament on October 1, among them longstanding Kurdish rights activist Leyla Zana, a former PEN case. The BDP was created after the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was forcibly closed down in 2009 on accusation of affiliation with the PKK. The BDP has made it clear that is not affiliated with the PKK and that the PKK does not influence its political policy. Despite this, BDP and former DTP members have been arrested and harassed. Some activists claim that over 1,000 have been arrested on charges ranging from speaking Kurdish to making statements critical of the government, as well as having links to the KCK. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has recently issued an analysis of the BDP and events since its formation in early 2010.

Professor Büşra Ersanli is an academic based at Istanbul’s Marmara University, where she is part of the Faculty of Political Science and International Relations. She is an expert on constitutional law and at the time of her arrest was working with the BDP’s Constitutional Commission. 
Ragip Zarakolu is a well-known political activist who has been fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey for over 30 years, publishing books on issues such as minority and human rights. He was one of 50 writers chosen to represent the struggle for freedom of expression since 1960 for PEN International’s 50th Anniversary Campaign, Because Writers Speak Their Minds. In the days leading up to his arrest, he had been campaigning for the release of his son, Deniz Zarakolu, who had been arrested three weeks earlier on October 7, also under the KCK operation. Deniz is a PhD student of political thought and has translated academic works including Thomas Hobbes’ De Cive.

Among the early KCK operation arrests was Muharrem Erbey, lawyer, writer, and Member of Turkey PEN, arrested in December 2009. He is still detained, and his trial is currently underway. Representatives from PEN centers have observed his trial.

PEN is monitoring the cases of several other writers similarly arrested for links to Kurdish political parties.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing alarm at the arrests of Ragip Zarakolu, Professor Büşra Ersanli, and Deniz Zarakolu, as well as the continued detention of Muharrem Erbey, and other writers and journalists accused for their affiliation with Kurdish political parties;
  • Referring to concerns that the arrests flout international standards protecting the rights to freedom of expression and association as guaranteed by both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human and Democratic Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory;
  • Raising concerns that the trial are politically biased and do not conform to fair trial standards, and seeking assurances that these concerns are addressed as a matter of urgency.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of Justice
Mr Sadullah Ergin
06669 Kizilay
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

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

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after November 30, 2011: ftw [at] pen.org