2008: Turkey: Ragip Zarakolu

18th March 2008

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Ankara

Your Excellency

The recent years has seen a series of trials against publisher Ragip Zarakolu. He is charged with “insult” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. It seems that around 20 other writers, publishers, journalists and academics are on trial under the same article.
This article is being used to bring a great number of people to the courts solely for having legitimately expressed their opinions, in direct violation of international rights standards.

PEN urges Turkey to bring about an elimination of this undignified article from its criminal code.

International PEN continues to feel deeply concerned about Ragip Zarakolu, and that the 8th April 2008 trial hearing against him may result in imprisonment. PEN has long campaigned against the application of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The application is seen as a clear deviation from the international standards safeguarding the right to freedom of expression to which Turkey is committed.

Once again, Your Excellency, I urge you to look into Ragip Zarakolu’s case and that of others being prosecuted under the same article.

With sincere best wishes

Aase Gjerdrum
Member of Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN

2007: Turkey: Ragip Zarakolu

December 27th 2007

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
Ankara

Your Excellency,

PEN International continues to make appeal to Your Excellency to further your efforts in the field of Human Rights, and it is our unfortunate impression that the progress is slow. Turkish human rights monitors are unhappy with the lack of progress in reforms. Reports refer to the systematic use of torure in detention centres, lapses in fair trial practices, restrictions on the use of Kurdish in some areas of civil society, and, the remaining abundance of laws that curtail freedom of expression.

We continue to raise our voice in protest against the trial case against publisher Ragip Zarakolu, which drags into 2008. Mr Zarakolu registers with that there has been a drop in the number of titles banned, compared to 2006. However, responsibility has been transferred to translators. A report lists no less than 43 trials against books and publishers in 2007.

Article 301 in your criminal code is still being used, for instance in the cases against Irfan Ucar and Umur Hozatli, journalist and editor.

PEN protests that the trial against Ragip Zarakolu continues, over two years since it opened. PEN urges an end to the continuing trails against other writers and journalists under article 301. These trials are in contravention of international standards protecting the right to freedom of expression, and to which Turkey is a signatory.
With reference to these internationally recognised conventions we strongly appeal to Your Excellency and to the authorities in general to repeal Article 301 completely and to drop the current cases based on this article.

With sincere best wishes

Aase Gjerdrum
Member of Writers in Prison Committee

Cc: Turkish Embassy in Oslo
Minister of Justice, Ankara

To rettsaker i Tyrkia, mars 2005

Report from joint mission to Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the trials of Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu on the 2nd of March 2005

 

Background:
The reasons for this mission were two fold: To defend the historian professor Fikret Baskaya and the publisher Ragip Zarakolu by being present during their trials which took place the same day in Ankara and Istanbul. And use these cases as a symbol for all the more than 60 freedom of expression cases which are going on in Turkey at the moment. Despite the Turkish authorities declarations that they want their legislation to come in line with European standards on human rights, the continuance of these trials proves that there is more to be done.

Both Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu have been Honorary Members of several of our centres for many years. Both have a long record as freedom of expression fighters in Turkey, both have spent years in prison for their struggle, and both are highly regarded and well known intellectuals inside Turkey as well as internationally.

For more background information see the joint document published by International PEN and International Publishers Assosiation.

Participants:
The mission was arranged by PEN and IPA (International Publishers Assosiation) with observers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. All together we were 14 delegates from Canada, England, Holland, Norway, Scotland and Switzerland. Seven monitored the trial of Fikret Baskaya in Ankara. – Seven stayed in Istanbul for the Ragip Zarakolu hearing.

Result:
Fikret Baskaya was tried on charges of “insult to the State, State institutions, and the military” under article 159 of the current Penal Code. He could face a three-year sentence for articles he wrote in the early nineties (since republished as a book entitled “Articles against the Current”)  After a trial totally dominated by the defence, and introduced by a strong speech by Fikret Baskaya himself, where he accused the judicial authorities in Turkey of letting the criminals go and sentence the victims, he was acquitted.

Ragip Zarakolu was charged with “incitement to racial hatred” under article 312 of the current Penal Code, for an article where he was critical of Turkeys foreign policy on Kurdish issues. The charges carry a two-year sentence.

After a chaotic hearing, where the judge never showed up (the explanation given was that he had no time for the trial because he was on a training program – an explanation given to Ragip Zarakolu, the delegation and the audience after one hour of waiting),  an assistant judge who obviously had no knowledge what so ever about the case postponed it until the 12 May.

The Delegations program:
On the first of March the delegation held a press conference at Taksim Hill Hotel. Also present were Turkish PEN, the Turkish Publishers Assosiation and last but not least Sanar Yurdatapan´s organisation FOX who helped us with the practicalities. Here the different members of the delegation gave speeches and statements, and described the reason why we had decided to highlight these two trials. We also declared our dissatisfaction with the new amendments the Turkish Penal Code. (see background doc.) And stated that our organisations could not accept moderations to articles which should be abolished once and for all if Turkey wants to live up to European judicial standards.

On the second of March, after the trial of Fikret Baskaya a press conference was held at the Free  University, Institute for Middle East Studies in Ankara, where the delegation welcomed the acquittal of Baskaya, but at the same time stressed the need for further and more substantial amendments to the Turkish Penal Code. We stated that there is a long way still to go for Turkey to live up to European standards on human rights and freedom of expression. We also pointed out the need to end, without any more delay the systematic use of torture which still is reported from several parts of the country.

Eugene Schoulgin, Beate Slydal from Amnesty International and Elisabeth Dyvik from Norwegian PEN then had a meeting with the EU ambassador to Turkey Mr. HansJürg Kretschmer and his assistant Mrs. Sema Kilicer. To the delegates satisfaction it became clear that the general views on the situation and the development in Turkey expressed by us was in line with thos of the EU Ambassador. He stressed the importance not to let the Turkish authorities fall back in old habits just because the EU had agreed to discuss their candidacy. He had registered a tendency of stagnation in the work for reforms, and he also pointed out the importance of the Turkish NGOs, and the old ones in particular, in the work to push the evaluation in the right direction. The government had appointed a number of new bodies to act as a kind of observers in the regions, with a most obscure status of semi non governmental organisations(!) These organisation´s role is obviously to bring back positive reports for use in Turkeys negotiations with EU.

Mr. Kretschmer also agreed in our view that the articles we are concerned about had to be abolished.

After that Eugene Schoulgin had a meeting with Head of Department in the Ministry of Justice Judge Ergin Ergül and Undersecretary Judge Fahri Kasirga. Giving the same views as before judge Ergül pointed out that amendments would follow in a high speed now. He also admitted that the Turkish State had committed a lot of wrong doings up through its history, and that it was high time to get in line with the rest of Europe.

Two concrete new facts came out of this meeting, Judge Ergin Ergül told that from the first of April this year prosecutors could not any more order judges to open cases. The decision would be in the hands of the judges. Second, more than nine thousand prosecutors and judges were at the moment undergoing a special training to learn the way European colleagues conducted their judicial work.

In Istanbul Alexis Krikorian visited the French consul. Unfortunately the result of this meeting was not as positive as the one we had with the EU Commissioner Ambassador Kretschmer. To our astonishment we have to admit that neither he, who represented an EU state, nor the Norwegian Ambassador the delegation met in Ankara, had a very strong stand on the Freedom off Expression issues we were advocating. On the opposite we were warned against getting involved with Turkish organisations that could influence negatively on our credibility in the eyes of the Turkish authorities. Since these organisations all represent a more than twenty year resistance in Turkey, have the highest credibility internationally, and have been our natural partners since the time of the military dictatorship, we have to point out that these warnings were quite remarkable.

The last evening Beate Slydal, Franca Tiberto from Swiss-Italian PEN, Alexis Krikorian and Eugene Schoulgin were invited to a dinner with the Marmara Group in Istanbul. The Marmara Group is a well known and important platform in Turkey concerned with reforms and the image of Turkey seen from abroad. In this Marmara Group we find former and present ministers, high ranking politicians, militaries, businessmen, journalists, scientists, people from left to right. The speaker on this occasion was our old acquaintance Ambassador Kretschmer. Since he had been most rudely attacked the day before by the Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül for his criticism of the development in Turkey, everyone looked forward to his reaction.

He repeated more or less what he had told us in Ankara two days before.

Beate Slydal asked the audience about their opinion on the judicial reforms, but got no answer. Eugene Schoulgin asked Mr. Kretschmer if he was of the opinion that a country which kept so many taboos both about their recent history, and their relations to their minorities, their dead leaders, their official bodies and actual politics could be a member of EU.

Conclusions:
I would say the mission was a success. We became visible. Fikret Baskaya was acquitted, although Ragip Zarakolus case remains unsolved. This is not unusual in cases such as his which go on over a long time. He has new trials against him, and much is still to be done. The co-operation with IPA has become a valuable reinforcement in our struggle, and the participation of so many PEN members from so many centres is of importance both for our visibility from outside, and for a more concrete understanding of the nature of missions among the WiP committees.

I would like to end by thanking all those who took part in this mission for their commitment, dedication and active participation.

Eugene Schoulgin

Oslo 22.03.2005

Report from joint mission to Istanbul and Ankara

Report from joint mission to Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the trials of Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu on the 2nd of  March 2005

Background:
The reasons for this mission were two fold: To defend the historian professor Fikret Baskaya and the publisher Ragip Zarakolu by being present during their trials which took place the same day in Ankara and Istanbul. And use these cases as a symbol for all the more than 60 freedom of expression cases which are going on in Turkey at the moment. Despite the Turkish authorities declarations that they want their legislation to come in line with European standards on human rights, the continuance of these trials proves that there is more to be done.

Both Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu have been Honorary Members of several of our centres for many years. Both have a long record as freedom of expression fighters in Turkey, both have spent years in prison for their struggle, and both are highly regarded and well known intellectuals inside Turkey as well as internationally.

For more background information see the joint document published by International PEN and International Publishers Assosiation.

Participants:
The mission was arranged by PEN and IPA (International Publishers Assosiation) with observers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. All together we were 14 delegates from Canada, England, Holland, Norway, Scotland and Switzerland. Seven monitored the trial of Fikret Baskaya in Ankara. – Seven stayed in Istanbul for the Ragip Zarakolu hearing.

Result:
Fikret Baskaya was tried on charges of “insult to the State, State institutions, and the military” under article 159 of the current Penal Code. He could face a three-year sentence for articles he wrote in the early nineties (since republished as a book entitled “Articles against the Current”)  After a trial totally dominated by the defence, and introduced by a strong speech by Fikret Baskaya himself, where he accused the judicial authorities in Turkey of letting the criminals go and sentence the victims, he was acquitted.

Ragip Zarakolu was charged with “incitement to racial hatred” under article 312 of the current Penal Code, for an article where he was critical of Turkeys foreign policy on Kurdish issues. The charges carry a two-year sentence.

After a chaotic hearing, where the judge never showed up (the explanation given was that he had no time for the trial because he was on a training program – an explanation given to Ragip Zarakolu, the delegation and the audience after one hour of waiting),  an assistant judge who obviously had no knowledge what so ever about the case postponed it until the 12 May.
The Delegations program:
On the first of March the delegation held a press conference at Taksim Hill Hotel. Also present were Turkish PEN, the Turkish Publishers Assosiation and last but not least Sanar Yurdatapan´s organisation FOX who helped us with the practicalities. Here the different members of the delegation gave speeches and statements, and described the reason why we had decided to highlight these two trials. We also declared our dissatisfaction with the new amendments the Turkish Penal Code. (see background doc.) And stated that our organisations could not accept moderations to articles which should be abolished once and for all if Turkey wants to live up to European judicial standards.

On the second of March, after the trial of Fikret Baskaya a press conference was held at the Free  University, Institute for Middle East Studies in Ankara, where the delegation welcomed the acquittal of Baskaya, but at the same time stressed the need for further and more substantial amendments to the Turkish Penal Code. We stated that there is a long way still to go for Turkey to live up to European standards on human rights and freedom of expression. We also pointed out the need to end, without any more delay the systematic use of torture which still is reported from several parts of the country.

Eugene Schoulgin, Beate Slydal from Amnesty International and Elisabeth Dyvik from Norwegian PEN then had a meeting with the EU ambassador to Turkey Mr. HansJürg Kretschmer and his assistant Mrs. Sema Kilicer. To the delegates satisfaction it became clear that the general views on the situation and the development in Turkey expressed by us was in line with thos of the EU Ambassador. He stressed the importance not to let the Turkish authorities fall back in old habits just because the EU had agreed to discuss their candidacy. He had registered a tendency of stagnation in the work for reforms, and he also pointed out the importance of the Turkish NGOs, and the old ones in particular, in the work to push the evaluation in the right direction. The government had appointed a number of new bodies to act as a kind of observers in the regions, with a most obscure status of semi non governmental organisations(!) These organisation´s role is obviously to bring back positive reports for use in Turkeys negotiations with EU.

Mr. Kretschmer also agreed in our view that the articles we are concerned about had to be abolished.

After that Eugene Schoulgin had a meeting with Head of Department in the Ministry of Justice Judge Ergin Ergül and Undersecretary Judge Fahri Kasirga. Giving the same views as before judge Ergül pointed out that amendments would follow in a high speed now. He also admitted that the Turkish State had committed a lot of wrong doings up through its history, and that it was high time to get in line with the rest of Europe.

Two concrete new facts came out of this meeting, Judge Ergin Ergül told that from the first of April this year prosecutors could not any more order judges to open cases. The decision would be in the hands of the judges. Second, more than nine thousand prosecutors and judges were at the moment undergoing a special training to learn the way European colleagues conducted their judicial work.

In Istanbul Alexis Krikorian begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting visited the French consul. Unfortunately the result of this meeting was not as positive as the one we had with the EU Commissioner Ambassador Kretschmer. To our astonishment we have to admit that neither he, who represented an EU state, nor the Norwegian Ambassador the delegation met in Ankara, had a very strong stand on the Freedom off Expression issues we were advocating. On the opposite we were warned against getting involved with Turkish organisations that could influence negatively on our credibility in the eyes of the Turkish authorities. Since these organisations all represent a more than twenty year resistance in Turkey, have the highest credibility internationally, and have been our natural partners since the time of the military dictatorship, we have to point out that these warnings were quite remarkable.

The last evening Beate Slydal, Franca Tiberto from Swiss-Italian PEN, Alexis Krikorian begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting and Eugene Schoulgin were invited to a dinner with the Marmara Group in Istanbul. The Marmara Group is a well known and important platform in Turkey concerned with reforms and the image of Turkey seen from abroad. In this Marmara Group we find former and present ministers, high ranking politicians, militaries, businessmen, journalists, scientists, people from left to right. The speaker on this occasion was our old acquaintance Ambassador Kretschmer. Since he had been most rudely attacked the day before by the Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül for his criticism of the development in Turkey, everyone looked forward to his reaction.

He repeated more or less what he had told us in Ankara two days before.

Beate Slydal asked the audience about their opinion on the judicial reforms, but got no answer. Eugene Schoulgin asked Mr. Kretschmer if he was of the opinion that a country which kept so many taboos both about their recent history, and their relations to their minorities, their dead leaders, their official bodies and actual politics could be a member of EU.

Conclusions:
I would say the mission was a success. We became visible. Fikret Baskaya was acquitted, although Ragip Zarakolus case remains unsolved. This is not unusual in cases such as his which go on over a long time. He has new trials against him, and much is still to be done. The co-operation with IPA has become a valuable reinforcement in our struggle, and the participation of so many PEN members from so many centres is of importance both for our visibility from outside, and for a more concrete understanding of the nature of missions among the WiP committees.

I would like to end by thanking all those who took part in this mission for their commitment, dedication and active participation.

Eugene Schoulgin

Oslo 22.03.2005

Rettsak mot Ragip Zarakolu og Ytringsfriheten i Tyrkia

Ytringsfriheten i Tyrkia

Av Kjell Olaf Jensen

Jeg kommer akkurat fra Statens Sikkerhetsdomstol i Besiktas, Istanbul. Oppbudet av journalister er enormt: CNN, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Le Monde … Det er heller ikke hvem som helst som har stått for retten; Ragip Zarakolu er en av Tyrkias mest kjente forleggere. Nå var han tiltalt for å ha utgitt en bok om militærregimet som styrte landet fra 1980 til 1983. Dessuten var han tiltalt for å ha skrevet boken — fordi forfatteren befinner seg i utlandet, slik at de tyrkiske rettsmyndighetene ikke kan få tak i ham. Den aktuelle lovparagrafen var straffelovens paragraf 312, som gir muligheter til tre års fengsel.

Zarakolu ble frifunnet. Kanskje på grunn av presseoppbudet, kanskje av den offisielle grunnen som ble oppgitt: Det var feil paragraf. Han skulle ha vært tiltalt etter antiterrorlovens paragraf 8, som omhandler separatisme og oppfordring til terror — men denne paragrafen ble fjernet sist vinter, som et ledd i demokratiseringen av Tyrkia.

Men i samme forbindelse kom anklageren til å tenke på at det i mars-april 2003 ble utgitt en artikkel i en tyrkisk avis, som førte til at både avisens redaktør og dens eier ble tiltalt for brudd på nettopp straffelovens paragraf 312. Påtalemyndigheten hadde imidlertid glemt å tiltale artikkelens forfatter: Ragip Zarakolu. I dag var det tydeligvis en god anledning til å minnes slike gamle forglemmelser.

Avisartikkelen hadde tittelen “Det er ikke din sak” og handlet om kurderne i Nord-Irak, hvor lettet de var da amerikanerne nektet de tyrkiske militære å krysse grensen for å “ta seg av” dem. Minst like ille er det at artikkelen var uhøflig — f.eks. bruker Zarakolu formen “du” i stedet for “De”, og slikt gjør man ikke ustraffet overfor tyrkiske militære myndigheter.

Straffelovens paragraf 312 handler om “oppfordring til hat på grunnlag av forskjeller når det gjelder samfunnsklasse, rase, religion, sekt eller geografiske regioner”. Men hvem kan si om hatoppfordringen i den grammatiske forskjellen mellom “du” og “De” overfor en general er et spørsmål om sekt eller tvertimot om region?

Denne nye saken kommer opp for Statens Sikkerhetsdomstol senere, antagelig over nyttår. Da dagens rettsforhandlinger var over, spurte Zarakolu advokaten sin om han hadde flere saker under oppseiling nå. Ja, svarte advokaten, det er én sak til som kan komme opp.

En tyrkisk forlegger kan med andre ord ikke selv holde oversikt over alle de sakene påtalemyndigheten kan reise mot ham, til det trenger han hjelp fra en god advokat. “Nå skjønner jeg hva trakassering er,” sa prosjektdirektøren i Den internasjonale forleggerforeningen, Alexis Krikorian fra Genève, som også var til stede i retten.

Med denne farten kan det ta en god stund før Tyrkia kan bli medlem av EU. Hver av de flere hundre rettssakene som hvert år blir ført mot ytringsfriheten (og hver eneste av dem er like farseaktig som den ovenstående), er et hardt slag mot Tyrkias søknad om medlemsskap; tyrkiske og internasjonale observatører sørger for at ikke minst EU følger med. Samtidig er den tyrkiske turistindustrien og dermed økonomien brutalt rammet av de tragiske og meningsløse bombeattentatene i Istanbul — i dag er kjempebyen fullstendig rensket for turister.

Ville det ikke være en bedre idé å bekjempe den virkelige terroren, nå da man har fått føle den på kroppen?