Turkey must drop charges against Ragıp Zarakolu - English PEN

English PEN, the founding centre of a global literary network, said on Sept. 24 Turkish authorities must drop all charges against publisher and human rights activist Ragıp Zarakolu.

Zarakolu was charged with aiding and abetting an illegal organisation under Article 220/7 of Turkey’s Penal Code, due to a speech he made at an event of the now-defunct Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). He was arrested on Oct. 29, 2011, and released pending trial on 10 April 2012. 

Zarakolu's hearing will take place in Istanbul on 28 September, and he faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, said "absurd" proceedings against Zarakolu has been ongoing for almost seven years, and the implementations of Turkish authorities under "anti-terrorism laws" have been targeting peaceful expression. "This campaign of intimidation has to stop now. Bogus charges against him must be dropped at once," Torner added.

Turkish police arrested Zarakolu within a broader crackdown on people engaged with the BDP and the Kurdistan Communities Union (Koma Civaken Kurdistan – KCK), seen as the alleged urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which Turkey considers as a terrorist organisation. 

Zarakolu arrested in 201 while he was running a campaign for the release of his son, author and translator Deniz Zarakolu, who spent two-and-a-half years in pre-trial detention on charges of membership of an illegal organisation. 

English PEN said although Zarakolu was living in Sweden since 2013, the "the harassment continued". Turkish police raided Belge Publishing House in Istanbul, which he founded in 1977 with his wife Ayşe, and seized over 2000 books in May 2017.

Jesper Bengtsson, President of Swedish PEN, said on Sept. 5, Turkey requested an Interpol Red Notice against Ragıp Zarakolu and Swedish PEN urged Swedish authorities not to extradite him. Zarakolu would face a real risk of serious human rights violations or abuses if returned to Turkey, Bengtsson added.

English PEN invited the public to take actions against his arrest and to send a message of support to Zarakolu.

Ragıp Zarakolu is an honorary member of PEN Turkey, PEN Canada, German PEN, Netherlands PEN, and San Miguel Allende PEN. He was awarded the Assyrian Cultural Award in March 2012 and was nominated as a candidate for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.