A non-partisan journal of the left.

Solidarity with Zarakolu and Ersanli

Wed 4th Jul 2012

Turkey is about to put on trial one of its most distinguished publishers, Ragıp Zarakolu, and one of its equally most distinguished academics, Professor Büşra Ersanli. The trial of the two on trumped up terrorism charges began on the 2nd July at 15th Court of Specially Authority in Istanbul. If convicted, the two face many years in jail.

The trial follows an indictment on 19th March by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor who charged Professor Ersanlı with “leading an illegal organisation” and Zarakolu with “aiding and abetting an illegal organisation”. The prosecutor is demanding between 15 and 22.5 years for Ersanlı and between 7.5 and 15 years for Zarakolu. Convicting the ‘accused’ would be an outrage that would provoke a clamour of condemnation from around the world.

Both of the accused have long and distinguished records in campaigning to extend democracy in Turkey. They have worked strictly according to the limits of the legal and constitutional means available to them in this noble pursuit. They have always conducted themselves peacefully. It is thus peculiar that they find themselves charged under Turkish anti-terrorism laws.

Zarakolu is the director of Belge Publishing House, a member of the Turkish chapter of PEN, an international network of writers that works to ‘defend freedom of expression and promote literature’. He also chairs Turkey's Freedom to Publish Committee. For over four decades he has fought a courageous campaign on behalf of freedom of expression and against censorship in his country.

The poet and polemicist Peter Balakian observed that, "Ragip Zarakolu has been honoured by almost every leading publishing organisation in the world for his courage, his patience, his intellectual rigour and his pursuit of genuine democracy."

For her part, Professor Ersanli is a noted academic based at the Faculty of Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul’s Marmara University. She is an expert on constitutional law and has been working with the Constitutional Commission of the Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi). Is this the party that Turkish prosecutors allege is a terrorist organisation? It is a party that operates in full legality and contests elections in Turkey. The BDP adopts a moderate stance on the Kurdish issue and is backed by many Kurdish people. It is not exclusively a Kurdish party and has won the support of many progressive Turks.

The arrests of the academic and the publisher last October provoked an international outcry and Mr Zarakolu and Professor Ersanli have received widespread support in their campaign for basic rights and freedoms. These rights, which people in Britain take for granted, are clearly still very much lacking in Turkey.

This forthcoming trial once again exposes the shallowness of Turkey’s claims to be deepening its democratic processes and these charges demonstrate the state’s ruthless determination to silence dissenting voices irrespective of the damage this might do to its international reputation.

The trial is part of the ongoing clampdown on the Koma Civakên Kurdistan (Union of Communities in Kurdistan), which has seen the arrests and prosecutions of thousands of Kurdish politicians, lawyers, deputies, councillors, human rights activists, academics, journalists and many others working for non-government organisations.

While 35,117 people are imprisoned on charges of terrorism worldwide, it has been calculated that around 12,900 of these are in Turkey alone. This is a shocking statistic which calls into question the validity of Turkish anti-terrorism laws.

In reality, the charges brought against Ragıp Zarakolu and Büşra Ersanli are a charade. Their prosecutions are politically motivated, designed to undermine the voices of legitimate opposition to the increasingly erratic and autocratic regime in Ankara.
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