Turkey: Letter to Sadullah Ergin, Minister of Justice, On Trials Against Writers, Journalists and Academics

6 June 2013

As anti-government demonstrations continue in Turkey, scores of writers, academics and journalists are among hundreds more who are in prison or on trial. Some of them have been imprisoned for over four years as they wait to hear the outcome of their trials. Shortly before the protests kicked off in Istanbul, one of these trials entered its final stages at a court in a prison complex outside the city.

Today, the Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee and PEN Centres who have elected writers on trial and in prison in Turkey as Honorary Members, sent a statement to the Minister of Justice calling for an end to the trials and release of all writers and journalists detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

6 June 2013

Mr Sadullah Ergin

Minister of Justice

06669 Kizilay



Your Excellency,

I write to you to raise PEN International’s concerns about a mass trial hearing against defendants accused of involvement in the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) that opened on 27 May 2013. Among the defendants are a number of writers, academics, publishers, journalists and translators. The current hearing is expected to continue until 7 June. The trial is expected to conclude later this year, by which time the case will have gone on for almost two years. Many of the defendants have been imprisoned ever since awaiting the conclusion of the trial.

Thousands of people 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 from Istanbul. 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 or have taken part in events organised by 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.

PEN International is highlighting five PEN Honorary Members who are among those being tried today. It considers the cases against 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 International, alongside the eight PEN Centres who have elected these writers as Honorary Members, is calling for the charges against them to be dismissed. It is particularly concerned that three of the five are still in prison, and urges that they be released.

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 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, above. 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.

As Your Excellency is no doubt aware, PEN International has a long history of engagement and interest in Turkey, In November 2012, I was a member of the PEN International delegation to Turkey that met with President Abdullah Gül, Minister for European Union Affairs, Egemen Bağis and others to raise PEN’s concerns about the large numbers of writers who are detained and on trial. We welcomed the opportunity to have an open and frank exchange on the state of free expression in Turkey, and the assurances that measures were being taken to improve the situation. The continuance of these trials is therefore of particular disappointment.

PEN International alongside the PEN American Center, English PEN,  Danish PEN, Kurdish PEN, PEN  Norway, San Miguel de Allende PEN, Swiss German PEN and PEN Turkey, 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

Chair Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

PEN American Centre

English PEN

Danish PEN

Kurdish PEN

PEN Norway

San Miguel de Allende PEN Centre

Swiss German PEN Centre

PEN Turkey