Trials of Writers Symbolize Turkey’s Freedom of Expression Problems

–Publisher Zarakolu Dragged to Court for Printing Jerjian Book

ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–The co-founder and owner of Belge Publishing Ragip Zarakolu has again been taken to court in Turkey–this time for printing a translated version of George Jerjian’s book "The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenia’s and Turks Reconciled." He faces charges of insulting the state and defaming the founder of the Republic–Ataturk.

In his defense–Zarakolu stated that in translating and publishing Jerjian’s book–he presents to the Turkish reader a book read throughout the world. "The Turkish public must know about the existence of such a book–especially these days–when there’s so much said about Armenian deportations and genocide. The reader can choose for himself; if he has opposing views–he can respond–creating a forum for debate," said Zarakolu. He also said that the case against him is in violation of his freedom of expression.

The judge in the case has postponed the trial until May 12 "in order to review reaction of people who have read the book." The trail is being closely followed by international human rights organizations–as well as progressive Turkish intellectuals. If convicted–Zarakolu faces one-and-a-half to four years imprisonment.

"The postponement is typical of such trials where hearings take place over many months–and sometimes years–causing much inconvenience and financial cost to those involved. Even if the defendant is acquitted of the charge–the long–drawn out process can be seen as a form of harassment. The trial itself can serve to make others think twice before publishing views that may bring them before the courts," writes International PEN–a world-wide organization of writers–established in 1921 to fight for the freedom of expression.

Zarakolu also faces separate charges of "incitement to racial hatred," for writing an article critical of Turkey’s foreign policy on Kurdish issues. Those charges carry a two-year jail sentence. An investigation was launched for his publication of Zulkuf Kisanak’s "Lost Villages."

In a separate case–writer Fikret Baskaya was acquitted of charges of "insult to the State–State institutions–and the military," stemming from articles published in the early nineties (since republished as a book titled: "Articles against the Current") in which he was critical of the Turkish authorities.

International PEN and The Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA)–as well as other international NGOs–among them Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch–were in Turkey observing the hearings.

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