Global Protests Follow Imprisonment of Ragip Zarakolu, Director of Belge Publishing House

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By Alison Flood

ISTANBUL (Guardian) — The international literary community is demanding the immediate release of Turkish publisher and free-speech activist Ragip Zarakolu, who has been arrested and imprisoned in Turkey under the country’s anti-terrorism laws.

Zarakolu, director of Belge Publishing House, a member of Turkish PEN and chair of Turkey’s Freedom to Publish Committee, is one of more than 40 activists who were detained in Istanbul on Friday, according to PEN and the International Publishers Association. The arrests are part of a crackdown against Kurdish political parties, which has seen more than 1,800 supporters of the banned Koma Civaken Kurdistan party jailed since 2009. PEN said that if an appeal against the charges is unsuccessful, Zarakolu will be held through a trial process, which is likely to last over a year.

Zarakolu founded Belge in 1977 and has tested publishing restrictions in Turkey ever since by releasing books from Armenian, Greek and Kurdish authors in Turkish editions, including books documenting the Armenian Genocide. His office was firebombed by a right-wing extremist group in 1995, said PEN, he was banned from leaving Turkey between 1971 and 1991 and he has been the subject of repeated charges, most recently being fined for releasing Mehmet Güler’s The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State in March.

Bjørn Smith-Simonsen, chair of the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said that Zarakolu “does not belong [in] prison; he deserves a Nobel Prize.” Calling him “the pride of publishing” and “the limelight of freedom to publish in Turkey,” Smith-Simonsen demanded he be released immediately.

“The trial is likely to begin in a year’s time only. Ragip Zarakolu’s health is not good. We fear that he will not stand his detention conditions in the terrible F-type(high security) prisons,” he said. The IPA is intending to meet the permanent representative of Turkey to the United Nations Office in Geneva as soon as possible to urge the Turkish government to release the publisher immediately.

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Smith-Simonsen was joined in his appeal by PEN America’s Freedom to Write Director Larry Siems, who called Zarakolu “an internationally-recognized defender of the right to write and publish freely.” “It is essential not to confuse the efforts of those who, like Ragip Zarakolu, have worked to bring down barriers of censorship in Turkey with those who press political agendas through violence,” said Siems. “We emphatically protest his arrest.”

Poet and essayist Peter Balakian, whose memoir, Black Dog of Fate, was published in Turkey by Belge, called the arrest “a blow to Turkey’s efforts to create a free and open society.”

“Ragip Zarakolu has been honored by almost every leading publishing organization in the world for his courage, his patience, his intellectual rigor and his pursuit of genuine democracy,” said Balakian. “For over four decades Ragip and his late wife and son have been at the cutting edge of social change in Turkey, publishing books on subjects that the government has deemed taboo — especially subjects dealing with minority issues in Turkey and the histories of minority cultures.”

Zarakolu founded Belge with his wife Ayse Nur, who received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 1997, and died 2002. Goldsmith, a writer and historian, said that “if Zarakolu is not given his freedom, then all of us give up our freedom to write. If Zarakolu is not free, then none of us are free.”

Zarakolu will be incarcerated at an F-type prison that hosts “dangerous convicts and prisoners” in the northwestern province of Kocaeli, alongside 17 other suspects who were also arrested for their alleged links to the KCK. The publisher’s lawyer, Özcan Kiliç, told the Hürriyet Daily News that they had issued a petition to the Justice Ministry for his client to be imprisoned in the same place as his son, Deniz Zarakolu, who is also under arrest in the Thracian province of Edirne.

Zarakolu, 65, suffers from various health problems, and there are difficulties regarding adequate medical treatment of patients in Ftype prisons, Kiliç said, adding that they were worried by the prospect of the activist being forced to serve time in such a penitentiary.

“Every act can turn into a disciplinary matter. Bans could be issued on letters, books, journals and, even more importantly, on meeting with visitors. There are a great many lawsuits filed in the European Court of Human Rights for this reason,” Kiliç said.

Zarakolu was arrested due to a public speech he gave in Istanbul in 2010 at the political academy of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue. An anonymous source informed on him, according to Kiliç.

(Hurriyet contributed to this report.)

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