19:30, 18 September 2008
Portuguese Synagogue, Mr. Visserplein 3, Amsterdam
The imposing yet cozy interior of the historic Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam welcomed the guests and participants of the 2008 IPA Freedom to Publish Award ceremony. The event officially opened the International Symposium on Neo-Censorship “Threat to the Open Book” as part of the Amsterdam World Book Capital 2008 programme. The recipient of this year’s award – Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu – was recognized for his dedication in the publishing field defying modern-day censorship and freedom of speech suppression in his home country.
Under the shimmering candle lights of the elegant chandeliers about 100 guests listened to the keynote given by Norwegian publisher William Nygaard – board member of the Norwegian division of International PEN, and an ardent supporter of freedom of speech. Having himself disseminated banned literature (in 1989 he published Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, outlawed in many Muslim countries), a “trespass” that nearly cost him his life in the early 1990s, Mr Nygaard was a truly deserving choice for the opening of the neo-censorship symposium.
Mr Zarakolu was introduced by Anna Maria Cabanellas, the President of IPA. In her speech, Ms Cabanellas highlighted Mr Zarakolu’s perseverance in the face of adversity, detailing the conditions that led to Mr Zarakolu’s recent conviction:
Publisher Ragıp Zarakolu was condemned for the crime of « insulting Turkishness »
under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code on 17 June 2007 for having published a
book entitled: The Truth will set us free. Armenians and Turks reconciled by George
Jerjian. This was the first conviction since this Article 301 was slightly amended on 30
April 2008. Over 1,000 people, including writers, publishers and journalists, have
been brought to the courts under Article 301 since it was created in 2005. Around 30
publishers, writers and journalists are on trial today under Article 301. They are
among a total of 79 charged under a range of laws that impinge on the right to free
speech, which shows that Article 301, although being a symbol, is not the only tool
used to prosecute free speech in Turkey.
An improvised interview with awarded Mr Zarakolu followed, which became the emotional highlight of the evening. Mr Zarakolu stated his support for Turkey’s continued process of European Union integration and urged EU officials to keep a close eye on Turkey’s growing censorship practices. He expressed regret at the current lack of monitoring in relation to the protection of human rights and democracy in Turkey – a country engaged in full-membership negotiations with the EU. Concluding the interview, Mr Zarakolu said that, as a normal human being, he often feels intimidated by the persecutions he has been subjected to in his home country, but that he wants to carry on with his mission as a publisher – to foster democratic values and uphold human rights.