Publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, who was arrested in November on terrorism charges as part of an investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), was released pending trial on Tuesday along with 14 other suspects in the case.
An indictment on the KCK, which is alleged to be an umbrella political organization that includes the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was accepted by an İstanbul court last week. The prosecutor is seeking up to 15 years for Zarakolu on charges of “knowingly aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.”
The İstanbul 15th High Criminal Court, which accepted the indictment last Tuesday, released 15 of the 132 suspects who are currently under arrest as part of the case. The reasons the court cited for releasing the 15 were the period the suspects were imprisoned in comparison to the sentences prosecutors have requested for them, the “possibility of a change in the nature of the crime” and “the state of the evidence.” It was not clear what the court meant by the “state of the evidence” and it did not provide further explanation.
There are a total of 193 suspects in the case. Professor Büşra Ersanlı, who was also arrested in November, was not among the 15 released on Tuesday. Ersanlı, who was a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) constitutional commission, faces up to 22-and-a-half years in jail on charges of leading a terrorist organization.
According to the indictment, Professor Ersanlı is in charge of all BDP-affiliated Political Academies across Turkey. The prosecution has demanded 38 years for the professor, accusing her of being an executive leader for an armed group and propagating its cause.
Amnesty International sent a letter to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay last December calling for the release of Ersanlı and Zarakolu. Amnesty called on the authorities to prevent unfair prosecutions under anti-terrorism legislation by bringing the definition of terrorism in line with international standards and norms.
The European Union has also recently voiced concern about the indictment of Ersanlı and Zarakolu. In a statement from the press office of European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle, the EU said last week that the Counterterrorism Law (TMK) and its interpretation have caused concerns about the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.
The arrests sparked criticism not only abroad, but in Turkey as well and led to discussion of the TMK, as dozens of journalists are being kept in prison. But prosecutors dismissed criticism of the imprisonment of the journalists, citing evidence presented in court.
The first hearing in the case is scheduled to be held on July 2 at the Silivri Prison complex.
Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, chairman of the Paris-based International Publishers' Association's Freedom to Publish committee, called for the charges against Zarakolu to be dropped.
"While IPA welcomes Ragıp's release pending trial, it remains concerned that he faces conviction and long imprisonment on charges breaching international standards protecting the right to freedom of expression," he told Reuters.
"IPA therefore urges the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against him as soon as possible."