Bjørn Smith Simonsen, Chair of IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, declared: “Ragip Zarakolu is a respected publisher worldwide. He is the recipient of IPA’s Freedom to Publish Prize 2008. He is also the Chair of the Freedom to Publish Committee of IPA’s Turkish member, the Turkish Publishers Association (TYB). We note with serious concern his arrest on his way home last evening. We are trying to find out more. So are the Turkish publishers. We sincerely hope that no charges will be brought against him”.
The arrest this weekend of publisher Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey’s most prominent freedom of expression and minority rights activists and a leading member of PEN Turkey is greeted with alarm and concern by PEN International. Arrested at the same time was Professor Büşra Ersanlı, of the faculty of Political Science at Marmara University. The arrests are part of a larger crackdown initiated in 2009 and still ongoing against Kurdish political parties. PEN is concerned that Zarakolu and Ersanlı, alongside several other writers and journalists also detained under this crackdown, are held in denial of their rights to peaceful freedom of expression and association.
Ragip Zarakolu and Professor Büşra Ersanlı were arrested on 28 October 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 its civil/political wing front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and thus also illegal.
Human rights groups monitoring the operation have reported concerns over 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), that the charges may be politically motivated, and that fair trial standards are 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 organisations 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 1 October, 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 to the PKK. The BDP has made it clear that is not affiliated to the PKK and that it does not influence it 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, 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.
Zarakolu is the recipient of the Norwegian Authors Unions freedom of expression prize 2004.