RSF: Four journalists facing possible jail
terms in Turkey for alleged links to banned Kurdish
Ragıp Zarakolu arrested in November 2011 in Turkey
in KCK probe. Zarakolu is a Turkish human rights
activist and publisher who has long faced legal
harassment for publishing books on controversial
subjects in Turkey, especially on minority and human
rights in Turkey.
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July 3, 2012
PARIS, The trial of well-known publisher
and journalist Ragip Zarakolu and three other
journalists Songül Karatagna, Kazim Seker and
Hasan Özgünes for their alleged connections with a
banned Kurdish organization begins today inside
Silivri high security prison on the northern
outskirts of Istanbul.
They and 189 other people are going to be tried for
alleged membership or links to the outlawed Union of
Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), which the
authorities regard as the urban wing of the armed
separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Zarakolu
was released conditionally in April after being held
for more than five months but 132 of the 193
defendants are currently detained.
Internationally recognized as a leading defender of
human rights and freedom of expression in Turkey,
Zarakolu could be returned to prison, Reporters
Without Borders said. And he will again have to
appear in court to explain the courageous positions
he takes. This alone says a great deal about the
threat that Turkeys media and civil society are
facing, the threat of a return to the past.
The trial that opens today is highly symbolic.
Criminalization of freedom of expression, abuse of
pre-trial detention and the anti-terrorism law, and
recourse to a special court the faults of the
Turkish judicial system are becoming a caricature of
themselves. Using guilt by association and
interpreting the law in the most repressive manner
the justice system is equating outspoken
intellectuals with armed terrorists. All the
journalists still in detention must be freed at once
and given a fair trial.
Arrested on 28 October 2011, despite his age, 63,
and poor health, Zarakolu was granted a conditional
release on 10 April. Karatagna was freed at the
same. Implicitly recognizing the weakness of the
case against Zarakolu, the court cited the state of
the evidence (...) the time already spent in
detention and the possibility of the charge
changing. The other two journalists, Seker and
Özgünes, are held in Kandira prison, in the
northwestern city of Kocaeli.
The founder of the human rights organization IHD,
Zarakolu has long been targeted in Turkey for
recognizing minority rights and the Armenian
genocide and for using his publishing house Belge
(which means document) to try to push back the
boundaries of censorship on these issues.
He used to edit the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem,
often writes for the newspaper Günlük Evrensel and
chairs the Freedom to Publish Committee of the
Turkish Publishers Union (TYB). He has won many
international awards and was nominated for the Nobel
Peace Prize last February, while in prison.
He is charged with deliberately helping the [KCK]
although it has been established that he is not part
of its hierarchy. Investigators questioned him
about his columns for Özgür Gündem and his too
many trips abroad, but the indictment accuses him
above all of attending the opening of the Istanbul
Political Academy, which is linked to the
pro-Kurdish BDP (a legal party represented in
parliament), and giving classes there.
He is facing a possible 15-year jail sentence under
articles 220.7 and 314.3 of the criminal code and
article 5 of Law 3713, the anti-terrorism law.
Seker and Karatagna, who are the publishers of Özgür
Gündem, are facing possible jail terms of 15 and 20
years respectively on a charge of being PKK members,
while Özgünes, a columnist for the Kurdish-language
daily Azadiya Welat, is accused of being a PKK
leader. As evidence for these charges, the
indictment above all cites the books found at their
homes and their presence at demonstrations or the
Istanbul Political Academy.
Many representatives of international associations
and media have gone to the prison for the trial,
although the presiding judge announced yesterday
they would not be allowed to attend. They include
Reporters Without Borders correspondent Erol
Önderoglu; Bjørn Smith-Simonsen of the International
Publishers Association; Alexis Krikorian, the head
of the IPAs Freedom to Publish Committee; Eugene
Schoulgin, the vice-president of International PEN;
and Sarah Wyatt, the head of PENs Writers in Prison
Hundreds of peoples responded to an appeal from the
Freedom for Journalists Campaign (GÖP) to
demonstrate on Istanbuls Istiklal Avenue on 29
June, chanting Empty the prisons, freedom for
journalists and calling for the immediate and
unconditional release of imprisoned journalists.
More than 5,000 people have been arrested in major
police operations since 2009 for their alleged links
to the KCK. They include many lawyers, journalists,
unionists and local representatives of the BDP.
Around 40 journalists were arrested last December in
coordinated raids carried out in several cities.
In a related case, the trial of 37 lawyers detained
since last autumn is due to begin on 16 July.
Representatives of the Paris bar association plan to
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