The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is delighted at the news of the release pending trial of writer, translator, scholar and women’s rights activist Ayşe Berktay, who has been held in pre-trial detention as part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) investigation for over two years. Berktay – who has been the subject of campaigns by PEN International, English PEN and the PEN American Centre, and whose trial has been observed by PEN Turkey and the Norwegian PEN Centre – was released this afternoon on 20 December 2013 by the Istanbul 15th High Criminal Court along with five others. While PEN welcomes the news of her release, we remain concerned that her trial will continue, and that translator and PhD candidate Deniz Zarakolu remains in pre-trial detention.
Berktay has been detained for the past two years on what PEN International believes to be trumped-up charges of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’. PEN International calls for the dropping of all charges against Berktay, and the immediate and unconditional release of Deniz Zarakolu, neither of whom have any material links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts.
Ayşe Berktay is a writer, translator, women’s rights and anti-war activist. Her published work largely centres on the role of women in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic.
Police arrested Ayşe Berktay and raided her home at 5:00 a.m. on 3 October, 2011, seizing personal papers and materials, though no arrest or search warrant had been issued. Berktay was eventually charged with ‘membership of an armed organisation’under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code; ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ under Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law; ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law; and ‘participating in illegal meetings or demonstrations’ under Article 23/b of the Meetings and Demonstrations Law.
The anti-terror investigation that Berktay has been implicated in centres around the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), known as KCK.. This investigation has been used by Turkish prosecutors as a means to pursue those with ideological sympathies for and affiliations to Turkey’s pro-Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The prosecutors allege that there is an organisational tie between peaceful civilian actors and armed PKK militants, an argument which appears to stem solely from the fact that they a joint ideological interest in pursuing greater rights for Turkey’s Kurdish citizens. Berktay is a BDP member, and is one of thousands of peaceful Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civilians in Turkey with no link to violence or the planning of violent acts that have been categorised as terrorist activity in the KCK investigation. The work she conducted and the meetings and demonstrations she attended on behalf of BDP form the evidence against her.
The next hearing of Ayşe Berktay’s trial will be held on 30 January 2014. The main KCK trial in Diyarbakir, which includes human rights lawyer and advocate Muharrem Erbey, recommences on 13 January 2014. The next hearing of another KCK-related trial – of 46 journalists in what is known as the ‘KCK Press Wing trial’ – is set to begin on 14 January 2013.
For further information please contact Ann Harrison at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: ann.harrison [at] pen-interantional [dot] org