English PEN urges Turkey to drop charges against publisher Ragıp Zarakolu

English PEN, the founding center of a global literary network, has urged Turkish authorities to drop all charges against publisher and human rights activist Ragıp Zarakolu.

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

Zarakolu’s hearing will take place in İstanbul on September 28. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International, said “absurd” proceedings against Zarakolu have been ongoing for almost seven years and that the implementations of Turkish authorities under “anti-terrorism laws” have targeted peaceful expression.

“This campaign of intimidation has to stop now. Bogus charges against him must be dropped at once,” Torner added.

Although Zarakolu has been living in Sweden since 2013, the harassment continues. In May 2017, police officers raided the Belge Publishing House, which he founded in 1977 with his late wife Ayşe, and seized over 2,000 books.

In July 2018, the Istanbul 3rd High Criminal Court submitted a request for an Interpol Red Notice, a mechanism used to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition. Zarakolu is due to open an exhibition on banned books at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 10, 2018.

Jesper Bengtsson, president of Swedish PEN, said: “We are appalled by reports that the Turkish authorities have requested an Interpol Red Notice against Ragıp Zarakolu, who faces a real risk of serious human rights violations or abuses if returned to Turkey. Should a Red Notice be issued, we urge the Swedish authorities and others to take all necessary steps to ensure Ragıp Zarakolu is not extradited or in any other way forcibly returned to Turkey.”

Writer and activist Debbie Luxon will be attending the hearing in İstanbul on Friday as a member of English PEN.

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