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Turkish Publishers Ragip Zarakolu to Receive "Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award" May 1

Renowned publisher, human rights advocate is 2012 recipient of AAP International Freedom to Publish Committee honor.

Washington, DC — Renowned publisher and human rights advocate Ragip Zarakolu, one of the preeminent voices of free expression in Turkey, has been chosen as the 2012 recipient of the “Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award.” Given by the Association of American Publishers’ International Freedom to Publish Committee (IFTPC), the award will be presented May 1 at the PEN Gala at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Zarakolu’s daughter and son will accept the award on his behalf.

Zarakolu founded the Belge Publishing House in 1977 with his late wife Ayse Nur and has defied Turkish censorship laws by translating and publishing editions of works by Armenian, Greek, Kurdish and other writers, often dealing with such forbidden subjects as the Armenian genocide and the repression of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Among Belge’s titles is the Turkish edition of Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past by American poet and academic Peter Balakian, who will present the award on May 1.

For years, Turkish authorities harassed, imprisoned and fined Zarakolu, also confiscating and destroying his books. In October 2011, Zarakolu was arrested in Turkey in a round-up of human rights activists; his son, an editor at Belge, was arrested as well. Zarakolu was charged with “aiding and abetting an illegal organization” under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. After more than five months in a high security prison, he was released pending trial on April 10 and faces up to 15 years of incarceration.

Zarakolu’s courage and commitment to human rights have earned him worldwide recognition including the Freedom to Publish Prize of the International Publishers Association and a nomination for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Upon learning about the AAP honor, Zarakolu said: “Thank you for the very important prize and for your support for freedom to publish. I am pleased to accept this prize not only for myself but on the behalf of all the publishers, writers and journalists who remain in prison in Turkey. Although I have been released, I remain under the threat of re-arrest as the anti-democratic laws and unfair trials continue. The day I and 14 others were released, 14 more people were arrested. I was arrested with no reason given and after five months, I was released with no reason given. I am not a political activist. For nearly 40 years, I have been a publisher and a supporter of human rights.”

Speaking for American publishers and their international colleagues, IFTPC Chairman Hal Fessenden (Penguin USA), said: “Ragip Zarakolu is a hero. His only weapon in the fight for free expression and human rights has been the written word. If this makes him a terrorist, then so are we all. In awarding Ragip the Jeri Laber Prize, we serve notice that we will not give up the fight for his freedom or the principles he embodies.”

The International Freedom to Publish Award recognizes a book publisher outside the United States who has demonstrated courage and fortitude in the face of political persecution and restrictions on freedom of expression. The award is named in honor of a founding member of IFTPC who served as its professional advisor for more than 30 years. Laber founded Helsinki Watch (later Human Rights Watch), and was its executive director from 1979 to 1995. She is also the author of a memoir, The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age with the Human Rights Movement.

The IFTPC was founded in 1975 by the Association of American Publishers. It was one of the first groups in the world formed specifically to defend and broaden the freedom of the written word and to protect and promote the rights of book publishers and authors around the world. Among its activities, the committee monitors and publicizes free-expression issues around the world, sends fact-finding missions to countries where free expression is under siege, lobbies both at home and overseas on behalf of persecuted book publishers, and offers moral support and practical assistance to threatened publishers abroad.

About AAP

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents about four hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital learning and education and professional publishers alongside independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies. We represent the industry’s priorities on policy, legislative and regulatory issues regionally, nationally and worldwide. These include the protection of intellectual property rights and worldwide copyright enforcement, digital and new technology issues, funding for education and libraries, tax and trade, censorship and literacy. Find us online at www.publishers.org or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.