Turkey: Judge says publishing freedom pioneer must remain in detention

Reporters Without Borders condemns an Istanbul judge’s decision on 1 November to keep columnist and publisher Ragip Zarakolu in detention until a prosecutor has drawn up an indictment, which in Turkey could take months or even years. Arrested along with dozens of other activists under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws on 28 October (see below), Zarakolu was immediately transferred from police custody to Istanbul’s Metris prison.

“It seems the Turkish judicial system has decided to make Zarakolu pay for being a free speech activist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A journalist of international renown and respected human rights defender, it is now his turn to be a victim of the two of the judicial system’s failings – misuse of terrorism charges to stifle criticism and misuse of the provisions for pre-trial detention.”

The press freedom organization added: “Keeping a media figure of this importance in detention, although he is in very poor health,” sends a very bad signal to the media. We demand his immediate release.”

Zarakolu runs the Belge publishing house, writes columns for the daily Günlük Evrensel and chairs the freedom to publish committee of the Turkish Publishers Union (TYB). As with many other journalists who are currently detained, it is absurd think he might “destroy evidence, put pressure on witnesses or take flight” – the grounds for ordering pre-trial detention under Turkish law.

Zarakolu was one of around 90 people who were picked up last week in a vast operation targeting presumed “collaborators” of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a network affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

At prosecutor Adnan Cimen’s request, 47 of them were transferred to prison when the legally-permitted period of police custody expired. As well as Zarakolu, they included Songül Karatagna, who writes for Özgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper that Zarakolu used to edit.

Hundreds of people – among them the widow of the murdered journalist Hrant Dink and representatives of several political parties including the BDP, which is pro-Kurd, and the CHP, which is Kemalist (Turkish nationalist and secularist) – protested against the arrests outside the law courts in the Istanbul district of Besiktas on 31 October, waving placards saying “That’s enough!”

Even the leading conservative journalist Fehmi Koru criticized the latest developments in the KCK investigation when he appeared on Kanal 7 TV on the evening of 31 October. Many Turkish and international media organizations have voiced support for Zarakolu, who won the international Publishers Association’s freedom to publish prize in 2008 and the prize of the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) in 2007.

31.10.2011 Columnist and publisher arrested in round-up of pro-Kurdish activists

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns columnist and publisher Ragip Zarakolu’s detention since the evening of 28 October, when he and around 40 other people were arrested in a round-up of pro-Kurdish activists in Istanbul.

“Turkey’s anti-terrorist law is yet again being abused in an attempt to silence those who speak out about the sensitive issue of minorities,” Reporters Without Borders said, calling for his immediate release. Zarakolu writes for the left-wing daily Günlük Evrensel and heads the Editions Belge publishing house in Istanbul.

The arrests were carried out as part of an investigation into the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a group affiliated to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

No official reason has so far been given for Zarakolu’s arrest. His lawyer, Özcan Kiliç, said he was questioned about several articles he wrote for the pro-Kurdish magazine Özgur Gündem, in which he referred to trips abroad since 2001, and about his participation in the inauguration of the Istanbul Political Academy, which was searched on 28 October.

He appeared today before a prosecutor in Istanbul.

Last March he was convicted of terrorist propaganda for publishing a book by the author Mehmet Güler entitled “The global state and the stateless Kurds”. He appealed against the conviction and the case is currently before Turkey’s highest court of appeal.

02.08.2010 – Another trial against Kurdish minority publication

Reporters Without Borders condemns the department of public prosecution’s decision to bring a new prosecution against writer Mehmet Güler and publisher Ragip Zarakolu. This time they are to be prosecuted for a book about the political system that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) would like to introduce.

In a trial due to begin on 30 September before an Istanbul assizes court, Güler and Zarakolu are facing at least eight months in prison if convicted on charges of “publishing PKK statements” and “PKK propaganda.” The PKK has been waging an armed struggle for Kurdish independence since 1984 and is on a government list of terrorist organisations.

Published by Editions Belges and entitled “The KCK File: Global State and Kurds without a State”, the book was immediately confiscated and banned when it was made available at a book fair in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir in May. “KCK” are the initials of the “democratic confederalism” that the PKK proposes for Turkey.

Prosecutor Hakan Karaali is bringing his case under articles 6 and 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which has been used to prosecute many Kurdish journalists and news media, and to impose long jail terms.

Zarakolu said he published the book in order to satisfy “the right of readers to information” and to present “an alternative version of the facts.” Güler said he “avoided using language that is to anyone’s benefit or detriment.” The author added: “The Kurdish political parties are banned. Former ministers, intellectuals, human rights activists and lawyers are jailed. Citizens have a right to know what is going on. I wrote this book in an entirely objective manner.”

Güler and Zarakolu have just been tried before another Istanbul court of assizes in connection with an earlier book, entitled “Decisions harder to take than death.” The court acquitted Zarakolu but sentenced Güler to 15 months in prison on 10 June on a charge of PKK propaganda.

Reporters Without Borders is worried about the situation of press freedom and media in Turkey amid mounting judicial harassment of journalists, especially those working for Kurdish media. It particularly concerned about new resolutions regarding TV news broadcasts that the government adopted on 15 July.

Interior minister Besir Atalay announced that the Radio and TV Supreme Council had decided, in agreement with national TV station executives, that “certain principles must be followed in situations of terrorist risk and other extraordinary circumstances.” Under these “principles,” TV stations undertake to limit the length and frequency of news flashes.

Another resolution, which has all the hallmarks of a veiled warned to the media, stressed that TV executives had a duty to avoid broadcasting “programmes, interviews or statements that appear to justify terrorist actions or are likely to be interpreted as propaganda on behalf of the people responsible for attacks or as encouraging future attacks.”

The interior minister hailed “these very decisive positions regarding terrorism” but the Contemporary Association of Journalists has warned that they are “likely to result in abuses.”

Reporters Without Borders fears that the vague working of these resolutions will be open to different interpretations and will encourage TV stations to censor themselves. Combined with the Anti-Terrorism Law, they could provide the authorities with new grounds for arbitrary arrests and prosecutions.