Turkish publisher’s arrest sparks outcry


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Ragip Zarakolu, founder and director of the Turkish publishing house Belge, was among more than 40 activists detained Friday in Istanbul. Belge has published Turkish editions of books that are controversial in that country, including books documenting the Armenian genocide and ‘The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State’ by Mehmet Güler. For 20 years, Zarakolu was prevented from traveling outside of Turkey, and in 1995, his office was firebombed.

His recent arrest was part of an official crackdown on Kurdish political parties that follows a violent attack that killed 24 Turkish soldiers. ‘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,’ PEN American Center Freedom to Write program director Larry Siems said in a statement. ‘Zarakolu is an honored PEN colleague and an internationally-recognized defender of the right to write and publish freely. We emphatically protest his arrest.’


Additional calls for Zarakolu’s release have come from the International Publishers Assn., the Guardian reports.

Bjørn Smith-Simonsen, chair of the International Publishers Association’s freedom to publish committee, said that Zarakolu ‘does not belong to 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.

On Tuesday, PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah said that Zarakolu’s arrest was ‘a disturbing sign of a decline in the climate for free expression in Turkey after several years of hopeful developments.’


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-- Carolyn Kellogg