Statement to the Minister of Justice, Turkey…..<< fill in salutation/address

On 27 May 2013, a mass trial hearing against xx defendants got under way which includes a number of writers, academics, publishers, journalists and translators. The current hearing is expected to continue until around 7 June, and, soon after, the final verdict will be announced. After 18 months on trial, the defendants, many of whom have been in prison all that time, will learn whether they will be convicted to prison terms, fined or acquitted.

PEN International considers the cases against PEN Honorary Members, Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, Mulazim Ozcan, Ragip Zarakolu and Büşra Ersanlı to be seriously flawed and that the charges against them are in direct violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association. PEN, alongside xx PEN Centres who have elected these writers as Honorary Members, is calling for the charges against them to be dismissed, that those who are detained be released.

Thousands of people who are believed to be on trial in Turkey as part of the ongoing Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) investigation. The KCK is an alleged umbrella organisation for groups with links to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The crackdown has included pro-Kurdish politicians, lawyers, journalists and intellectuals and has been underway since 2009. Hearings are being held in several courts on different dates. The current trial, of around 200 people including the five writers whose details are given below, is being held at a mass hearing in Silivri Court, some 50km outside of Istanbul. It is believed that this is the final hearing before a verdict to be announced soon after.  All are charged under Turkey’s Anti Terror law, yet it is clear that many among the defendants are accused only for their engagement in debates on Kurdish issues, taking part in meetings and other activities that in no way can be seen to promote violence. These include PEN Honorary Members, all of whom are affiliated to the pro-Kurdish Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), a legal party with 29 representatives in parliament. It is thought that BDP supporters have been brought under the KCK investigation as a means of undermining the party. The five PEN Honorary Members are:

•          Ayşe Berktay: academic, author, translator and founding member of the World Tribunal on Iraq.  Detained on 3 October 2011 she remains in prison. She is accused of ‘membership of an illegal organisation’ for allegedly ‘planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilising the state”. She could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

•          Deniz Zarakolu: author, translator and PhD candidate, was arrested in October 2011 and has also been detained ever since. Charged with membership of an “illegal organisation” for giving lectures on political philosophy for the pro-Kurdish Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP). Zarakolu faces up to 12 years in prison.

•          Mulazim Ozcan: Kurdish poet, linguist and consultant at Ragip Zarakolu’s publishing house (see below), he was arrested in October 2011 and remains detained. It is believed that his detention is linked to a lecture he gave on the Kurdish language to the BDP.

•          Ragip Zarakolu: publisher and one of Turkey’s most prominent free expression activists and father of Deniz Zarakolu. Arrested in October 2011, he was released in April 2012 pending trial and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted as charged for “aiding and abetting an illegal organisation”. He is accused of making speeches for the BDP and writing for a pro-Kurdish newspaper.

•          Professor Büşra Ersanlı: respected academic and political scientist, also arrested in October 2011, and freed pending trial in July 2012. She could receive a sentence of up to 22 ½ years on accusation of “leading an illegal organisation”.  An elected member of the BDP’s Party Assembly, at the time of her arrest she was advising the BDP on constitutional reform.

PEN International alongside the xx and yy PEN Centres, firmly believe that the charges against Ayşe Berktay, Deniz Zarakolu, Ragip Zarakolu,  Mulazim Ozcan,and Büşra Ersanlı are in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Turkey is a signatory. We are therefore calling for the release of Ayşe Berktay, Mulazim Ozcan and Deniz Zarakolu, and for all charges against them and their co-defendants to be dropped immediately and unconditionally.

Marian Botsford Fraser, PEN International

PEN America – English PEN – Danish PEN – Kurdish PEN – PEN Norway – San Miguel de Allende PEN Centre – Swiss German PEN Centre – PEN Turkey