U.S. Silence Raises Risk to Jailed Human Rights Advocate
WASHINGTON—Armenian Americans have joined with free speech and human rights advocates in calling upon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to end more than two weeks of official silence regarding the Turkish government’s October 28 arrest of long-persecuted publisher Ragip Zarakolu.
“Ragip Zarakolu has – for no reason other than his commitment to freedom of speech – been dragged, once again, to rot in a Turkish prison – without a single word of protest from the U.S. State Department,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “This is a disgrace. The leaders of the Obama Administration – who have, by now, made it painfully clear that they lack the courage to honor their own commitments to speak out honestly about the Armenian Genocide – appear, now, also unwilling to even speak up when those, like Ragip Zarakolu, demonstrate the audacity to stand up for the truth in the face of threats of prosecution and persecution.”
Zarakolu, the owner of the Belge Publishing House, was rounded up as part of a politically motivated series of arrests of largely Kurdish political and human rights leaders. He has, among his many titles, published a series of books on the Armenian Genocide, which have made him and his family the target of prolonged prosecutions and incarcerations over many years.
Despite public protest by rights groups including Human Rights Watch and PEN International, the U.S. State Department has remained silent in response to the Zarakolu arrest. When asked a direct question by H1 Television correspondent Haykaram Nahapetyan regarding the State Department’s position on the issue, the Spokesman’s office dodged the question, and simply reported: “The United States is a strong defender of freedom of expression in Turkey and in all countries around the world. We do not want to comment at this time on specific cases before the courts. We urge that the prosecution proceed transparently, and that all defendants be assured due process and a fair hearing in a timely manner.”
An action alert on the ANCA’s website provides an opportunity for activists to urge Secretary Clinton to condemn Turkey’s arrest of Ragip Zarakolu and to call for an end to the crackdown on Turkey’s Kurdish community leadership. To participate, visit: http://www.anca.org/action_alerts/action_disp.php?aaid=56472501
The letter notes the State Department’s “shameful, century-long record of appeasing the most intolerant elements of Turkish society – as so painfully illustrated for all the world to see by the gag- rule that our nation’s leaders have allowed Ankara to impose on American recognition of the Armenian Genocide.” It also forcefully condemns the State Department’s “tacit support for the Turkish government’s long-standing prosecution and persecution of the small but growing number of voices within Turkey who, at the risk of their own lives and freedom, seek to bring about fundamental change to a system founded upon genocide, and reliant upon the threat and use of force, both at home and abroad.”
The ANCA WebMail letter closes with a chilling reminder about how “the State Department maintained a similar silence regarding the Turkish government’s prosecution and public demonization of Hrant Dink, the late Armenian journalist, until, of course, after he was killed in cold-blood on the streets of Istanbul in January of 2007. Let us hope and pray that a similar fate is not visited upon Mr. Zarakolu. This time to speak is now.”
Turkey’s actions have been roundly condemned by international rights organizations including, Human Rights Watch and PEN International, who have expressed grave concerns about Zarakolu’s arrest. Rights groups report that some 200 Kurdish political and community leaders have been arrested since October 4, an escalation of a Turkish Government crackdown that began in 2009, and a continuation of a century-long process to destroy the national, cultural, and democratic aspirations of the Kurdish people.
In a November 2 statement, Human Rights Watch’s Turkey researcher, Emma Sinclair-Webb, explained “The arrests of Ragip Zarakolu and Busra Ersanli represent a new low in the misuse of terrorism laws to crush freedom of expression and association in Turkey. We are seeing the Turkish police casting the net ever wider in the crackdown on legal pro-Kurdish politics. Unless there is clear evidence of people plotting violence or providing logistical support to armed groups, prosecutors and courts should throw these cases out.”
PEN International expressed “alarm and concern” at the arrest of Zarakolu and Ersanli, stating that their arrest “alongside several other writers and journalists also detained under this crackdown, are held in denial of their rights to peaceful freedom of expression and association.”
Since his arrest, Zarakolu has been transferred to a high security prison, and a series of manuscripts on the Armenian Genocide, scheduled for publication, have been confiscated by Turkish authorities from his home.
In a letter written from prison and forwarded through his lawyer, Zarakolu notes: “During my interrogation, they did not ask any question about the organization to which I was accused of being a member. They questioned me only about the books I wrote or edited for publication, and the public meetings I attended or spoke at. I think that everybody should jointly react against these arrests that have turned into a mass lynching campaign. These illegal practices should be stopped.”