Former City of Pasadena Mayor and attorney William Paparian, and attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan, have written to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton protesting the arrest of Mr. Zarakolu and demanding a Congressional hearing in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Find the full text below.

November 4, 2011

The Honorable Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton,

It is with profound distress that we write you regarding the recent news that the prominent Turkish human rights activist, writer, and publisher, Ragıp Zarakolu, along with fifty other individuals, including his son Deniz and Büşra Ersanlı, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Marmara University, were detained by Turkish authorities. Allegations that these prominent individuals are members of an “an illegal organization,” caught during a sweep-up that has been dubbed the KCK operation, are dubious. The operation, which has yet to conclude, is evidently targeting members of Turkey’s minority Kurdish community, namely those who belong to the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, the KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan).

Mr. Zarakolu has been charged under the country’s overbroad and vaguely-defined anti-terrorism laws for giving a lecture in Istanbul in 2010 to an assembly of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), a pro-Kurdish political party that boasts 36 seats in Turkey’s parliament. According to Zarakolu’s lawyer, Özcan Kılıç, his lecture was not recorded and there is little means of determining its content and what it may have contained to warrant his arrest. Moreover, aside from an article that was published by the online newspaper Dicle New Agency, no documents or other pieces of evidence have been adduced to even suggest that he has committed a crime. It should be borne in mind that the government has tried to link the BDP with the PKK, even though the former has avowed that there is no affiliation between the two.

Mr. Zarakolu has been a leading champion for the advancement of freedom of expression, civil liberties, social justice, and democracy in the Republic of Turkey for more than twenty years. He is a member of the Turkish branch of the PEN literary organization and is the chair holder of the Freedom to Publish Committee based in Turkey. Belge, the publishing house he and his late wife Ayşenur founded in 1977, has translated numerous books and other works that deal with the issues of the Armenian Genocide and the rights of the national minorities of Turkey. Zarakolu’s work has been hailed internationally and in recognition thereof, he has been awarded the NOVIB/PEN Free Expression Award, as well as the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize.

It is for this unfathomable reason that any of the allegations leveled against Mr. Zarakolu hold any water. Moreover, and unfortunately, it is all too clear that he and the others who are currently in custody were targeted in a coordinated campaign by Turkish authorities to crack down on dissenters. Mr. Zarakolu has been subject to this type of harassment for well over thirty years. His permission to travel outside of the country was revoked in 1971 and reinstated only twenty years later. In 1995, a right-wing group was blamed for a firebomb attack that destroyed the offices of his publishing house in Istanbul. In the past decade, the Turkish government has opened a multitude of cases against Zarakolu, charging him for violating the country’s draconian laws, including the notorious Article 301, which makes it a crime to “insult the Turkish nation.”

The United States State Department, as well as other international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the European Commission, have amply documented Turkey’s ongoing abuse of human rights and stifling of civil liberties. Your department’s own 2010 report on the status of human rights in Turkey highlighted the hostile political climate ordinary citizens are forced to submit to: “Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of criminal suits or investigation, and the government continued to restrict expression by persons sympathetic to some religious, political, and Kurdish nationalist or cultural viewpoints.” Indeed, the Turkish republic’s repression of the cultural rights of Kurds is particularly egregious, as it has since its establishment in 1923 tried to limit the! use of their language and marginalized the Kurdish national identity.

Several organizations have stepped forward in defense of Zarakolu and the other defendants and condemned the Turkish government’s actions. In a letter published on November 1, Human Rights Watch remarked that the arrests “ the huge deficiencies of Turkey’s criminal justice system” and the detention of Zarakolu and Ersanlı “represent a new low in the misuse of terrorism laws to crush freedom of expression and association in Turkey.” It noted that there is “scant evidence to suggest the defendants engaged in any acts that could be defined as terrorism as it is understood in international law.” PEN International has similarly expressed its concerns over whether fair trial standards are being observed, including unusually lengthy detentions. This is especially significant considering that Mr. Zarakolu’s health is in poor state and it is unlikely! that he will be able to endure the harsh physical conditions of the Turkish prison system.

In light of all this, we call upon you to share precisely what approach will the State Department take regarding these politically motivated arrests. The United States government’s recent decision to sell three AH-1W Super Cobra gunship helicopters and Predator and Reaper pilotless drones to Turkey certainly does not inspire any confidence in the belief that the further supply of U.S. military matériel is contingent upon Turkey undertaking genuine reforms in the area of civil rights and democracy. The United States has silently abetted and thus been complicit in allowing the Republic of Turkey to continue to violate the human rights of its citizens. Because of this deplorable policy of “business as usual” we believe that it is most appropriate to contact the House Foreign Affairs Committee to hold hearings on the matter and have the State Department testify and explain its position.

Thank you Madame Secretary.

William Paparian, Esq.

Vartkes Yeghiayan, Esq