Arrest of Turkish intellectual with alleged links to PKK spurs protest

AFP , Thursday 3 Nov 2011

Turkish intellectuals protest the arrest of an academic accused of having links with the Kurdish PKK separatist group, as the head of the academics association claims the arrest to be a 'blow to scientific and academic freedom'

A group of intellectuals and academics on Thursday protested the arrest of a prominent Turkish publisher and an academic over suspected links with Kurdish rebels.

"This is a blow to scientific freedom, academic freedom," said Tahsin Yesildere, head of the Association of Academics, outside the court in central Istanbul where lawyers for professor Busra Ersanli, a political scientist, and publisher Ragip Zarakolu appealed a court decision ordering their arrests.

Forty-four people were on Tuesday arrested including Ersanli, Zarakolu and some members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) over suspected links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Zarakolu, the recipient of the 2008 Freedom to Publish Prize of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and a freedom of expression activist, was also a columnist for the dissident daily Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper.

"No questions were asked of me about the organisation of which I am accused of being a member. (They) just asked about the books that I am preparing to publish and about the speeches I gave...," media reports quoted Zarakolu as saying in a letter sent from jail.

Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay has demanded that the grounds for Zarakolu's arrest be disclosed.

"What are the allegations against him? We... have the right to know," he added.

The IPA also criticised the arrest of Zarakolu and demanded his immediate release.

"Ragip Zarakolu is the pride of publishing... he is a tireless human and minority rights activist... this man does not belong in prison, he deserves a Nobel Prize," said Bjorn Smith-Simonsen of the IPA.

More than 2,500 Kurds, including and five lawmakers, mayors and elected local officials of the BDP, are in jail on similar charges.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeast Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

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