PEN International has learned that writer, academic, and publisher Ragip Zarakolu has been formally charged alongside Professor Büşra Ersanlı under the Anti-Terror Law today. PEN has received further details that lead to the fear that the charges are related to the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Background Information

As reported by PEN on October 31, Zarakolu was arrested alongside Professor Büşra Ersanlı as part of a mass arrest three days earlier. PEN understands that Zarakolu has been charged with “membership of an illegal organization”—reportedly related to a speech he made at an event by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) party, and to articles published in the newspaper Ögür Gündem (Free Agenda). Zarakolu has reportedly filed an appeal, and faces months in pre-trial detention if the appeal is unsuccessful. PEN is seeking further details in relation to his detention.

This afternoon, Zarakolu and Ersanlı were taken to the Istanbul Courthouse. reports that during their hearing, hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse in protest. They allegedly held copies of Ersanlı’s book, Peace and History, and chanted slogans demanding the release of Zarakolu and Ersanlı. Over 40 other individuals who were also arrested on October 28, 2011, were taken to the hearing and subsequently detained pending investigations.
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

  • Condemning the charges against Ragip Zarakolu and Professor Büşra Ersanli, which appear to be related to their exercise of their right to free expression, and calling for their immediate release;
  • Also expressing alarm at the arrests of 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 trials 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]