Punishment Without Trial: Pre-trial Detention in Turkey

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Ragip Zarakolu

Ragip Zarakolu

Years ago, Tom Lehrer sang “when correctly viewed, everything is lewd.”  In today’s Turkey, one might well sing “when correctly viewed, everyone’s a terrorist.”  How else do you explain the recent incarceration of Ragip Zarakolu, currently being held in a prison designed for hardened and dangerous criminals?

Zarakolu, 65-year-old and in ill health, is a book publisher and human rights activist who has been accused of terrorism– apparently because he gave a talk at a legal Kurdish political party’s Politics Academy.  Professor Büşra Ersanlı was also detained and records of their interrogation by prosecutors show that both Zarakolu and Ersanlı were asked about their participation with the Politics Academy.

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A War on Dissent in Turkey

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Ragip Zarakolu

Activist Ragip Zarakolu is currently languishing in a Turkish prison (Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

It has, by any standards, been a painful last few months in Turkey.  Violence between the Kurdish nationalist PKK and the Turkish state has risen sharply, resulting in the Turkish military crossing over into Northern Iraq in force.  A devastating earthquake in the city of Van has killed hundreds, left thousands seriously injured, and left tens of thousands homeless as cold weather moves into the region.  Coming at a time of increased tensions between Kurds and Turks, the tragedy in Van exposed political as well as geological fault lines that bode ill for Turkey’s future.

And then there are the arrests.  Little noticed outside of Turkey, thousands have been arrested over the past few years for what appear to be political crimes.  Since 2001, some 12,000 Turkish citizens have been arrested under terror statutes, with nearly four thousand arrested in just the last thirty months.

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