Sunday, 29 April 2007

RAGIP ZARAKOLU - "Human Rights Issues in Turkey a Liberal Turkish view on Armenian Genocide Recognition"

Armenia Solidarity
British Armenian All Party Parliamentary Group
Nor Serount Publications

"Human Rights issues in Turkey:
A Liberal Turkish view on Armenian Genocide Recognition"
(and related issues)

Speakers: The well -known Turkish Publisher and Human Rights activist Ragip Zarakolu and Kurdish journalist Murat Aktas

at 4.30 p.m. on wednesday, 2nd of May

in Committee Room 4 in the House of Lords

The meeting is sponsored by Baroness Park of Monmouth

Biography: Ragip Zarakolu

Turkey: Ragip Zarakolu Professional background
The director and owner of Belge Publishing House, Ragip Zarakolu has been subject to a lifetime of harassment from the Turkish authorities. After graduating college in 1968, Zarakolu began writing for magazines such as Ant and Yeni Ufuklar, both of which focused on issues of social justice in Turkey. In 1971, a military government assumed power in Turkey and instituted a crackdown on writers it deemed subversive. Following a conviction and a three-year stay in prison, Zarakolu steadfastly refused to abandon his campaign for freedom of thought, striving for an "attitude of respect for different thoughts and cultures to become widespread in Turkey." Since his writings were repeatedly banned in Turkey for their criticism of the country's military regime, Zarakolu began to turn his attention to abuses of human rights by governments in South America and elsewhere.

In 1977, Zarakolu and his wife Ayse Nur founded the Belge Publishing House, which has been a focus for censorship since its inception. Its publications have not only drawn the government's ire. Zarakolu's office was firebombed by an extremist rightist group in 1995, forcing it to be housed in a cellar. Despite the death of his wife in 2002, Zarakolu has continued to publish writings critical of human rights violations around the world, especially in his native Turkey.

Case history
Zarakolu's staunch belief in freedom of expression, his vocal campaign against book bannings, and his persistence in publishing works that violate Turkey's repressive censorship laws have resulted in a catalog of indictments dating back to the early 1970s.

His aforementioned 1971 conviction and three-year imprisonment stemmed from accusations by Turkey's new military government that Zarakolu was in cahoots with an international communist organization. In the 30 years since his release, Zarakolu has continued to defy Turkey's censorship laws, especially Article 312 of Turkey's Penal Code, which outlaws "making divisive propaganda via publication." The Belge Publishing House operated under a barrage of charges brought by Turkish authorities against Zarakolu and his wife. Over the years, such charges resulted in further imprisonment for the couple, the wholesale confiscation and destruction of books, and the imposition of heavy fines. Zarakolu's wife passed away in 2002.

Current status
Ragip Zarakolu is currently being tried in two separate cases for publishing works deemed "insulting" to the Turkish government. Representatives from International PEN and the International Human Rights Federation were present for his most recent trial in Istanbul on June 21, 2006. At this trial, Zarakolu faced charges under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for the publication of two books by George Jerjian and Professor Dora Sakayan, with a maximum possible jail sentence of 13.5 years.

George Jerjian's book, History Will Free Us All, which was considered "insulting" to the memory of Kemal Atatürk, suggested that close advisors to Atatürk were responsible for the mass deportation of Armenians in 1915. It has also been accused of "ridiculing the state," and its publication carries charges of up to seven and a half years in prison. In response to claims that "the court is trying a book which it has not read," a new experts' committee has been appointed to assess the offensiveness of History Will Free Us All. In the case regarding Professor Dora Sakayan's book, An Armenian Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922, the prosecutor demanded a six-year prison sentence for Zarakolu for having "insulted the Army" and also "Turkishness" by publishing this book. Although Zarakolu invited an expert witness to speak in his defense at the trial, the court refused to hear him. Both cases were adjourned to June 21, 2006, then October 9, and have been now postponed again. A date has not been set.

The news that the trials against publisher Ragip Zarakolu will drag on for at least another four months following a prior two-month delay and eight previous trial dates has been met with increasing alarm that, far from improving, the state of free expression in Turkey is taking a steep downward curve.

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