Wednesday 13 May 2020 – 9:07am
PEN International calls for the immediate discontinuation of the criminal investigation against human rights defender, author and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu for allegedly undermining the constitutional order and insulting the President. A complaint was filed by President Erdoğan and the presidency’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun concerning a column written by Zarakolu, published on 6 May 2020 in Evrensel newspaper and on Arı Gerçek website. In the article, Zarakolu draws a comparison between the policies of Erdoğan and Adnan Menderes, a former Prime Minister who made an opening towards more free speech and democracy upon first coming to power but later changed the line and restricted human rights, and who was eventually executed after a military coup. Ahmet Özel, an attorney of the President, has alleged that by doing so, Zarakolu stated his desire for a coup. In his response, Zarakolu has noted that his article is in fact anti-coup and that he has “struggled against coups and putschist tendencies all through his lifetime”.
‘This latest complaint is part of a pattern of judicial harassment of Ragıp Zarakolu for his tireless work to advance free speech and human rights in Turkey. We call for this investigation, and all other ongoing legal proceedings against him, to be discontinued immediately,’ said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
Zarakolu has been fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey for over 30 years, and this latest development follows a string of more than 45 legal proceedings against him. He was arrested most recently in October 2011 on trumped up terrorism charges, when he was jailed for five months and released pending trial, which remains ongoing. Since 2013, Zarakolu has been living in Sweden, but the harassment against him has continued, including a May 2017 raid on Belge Publishing House. In December 2019, Sweden’s High Court rejected an extradition request from Turkey on the grounds that the allegations against Zarakolu would not be considered a crime under Swedish law, and that an extradition would breach Article 3 (prohibition of torture) and Article 6 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Subsequently, the Turkish authorities confiscated all Zarakolu’s assets in Turkey and froze his pension.
Zarakolu is a member of PEN Turkey and an honorary member of PEN Canada, Danish PEN, German PEN, Netherlands PEN, San Miguel Allende PEN, and Swedish PEN.