Turkey: Arrests and Trials Against Writers and Journalists Escalate

On news of the acquittal on 21 September 2006 of writer Elif Shafak of charges of “insult” for comments made by fictitious characters in a novel, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee Programme Director, Sara Whyatt, stated “We are delighted for Elif Shafak, but we are not celebrating”. She, together with Eugene Schoulgin, Board Member of International PEN, Muge Sokmen and Vecdi Sayar of Turkish PEN, around 50 Turkish writers and many more supporters, had been present at the trial.

Not celebrating, because scores more writers, journalists and publishers are on trial in Turkey. Yet another court case was instigated against Hrant Dink the editor of Agos, an Armenian language newspaper. He is to be tried for a quote from an interview he gave to the Reuters news-agency that was published in Agos, in which he stated that the Turkish army had carried out a genocide against Armenians in the early 1900s. He is charged with “insulting Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which carries a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison. He was recently convicted under the same code to six months in prison suspended, and, should he be found guilty of the new offence, he will be required to serve both sentences.

At least 18 other writers, publishers and journalists are on trial in Turkey on charges of “insult”, and many more under other laws that have been used to stifle legitimate comment in Turkey. For example, on 5 October, Ipek Çalislar, the author of Latife Hanim (Lady Latife), will go on trial for a biography of the first wife of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. She could be sentenced to up to 4 ½ years for “insult” to the memory of Atatürk, under Law 5816. On the same day publisher Ragip Zarakolu will also be before the courts for further hearings of long-standing trials against him for publishing two books, both under Article 301 and both referring to the murders of Armenians at the turn of the last century. That day will be a particularly busy one for the courts with five other journalists and writers standing in courts around Istanbul.

Other laws are also being applied against an estimated 60 further writers and journalists in denial of their right to freedom of expression. The Turkish Human Rights Association has pointed to 14 articles of the Turkish Penal Code that are being used to suppress free expression and is calling that they be abolished or revised. Also there are concerns that anti-terror legislation is being misused against radical newspapers. In recent days there have been raids against a number of leftist publications in Istanbul and several of their journalists and staffers arrested under the Anti Terror Law. PEN is currently seeking more information on these events which are described by some as a further attempt to quash free speech.

The continuance of attacks on free expression flies in the face of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments following the acquittal of Elif Shafak, a decision that he described as being “very pleasing”. He also suggested that the government should consider the amendment of Article 301 and that there should be talks with the opposition and non-governmental organisations to that effect.

English PEN is deeply alarmed by the continued and growing number of writers, journalists and publishers who are before the courts for reasons that are in breach of international human rights conventions. It calls for an end to these trials and for a thorough review of the legislation that penalise freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Right, to which Turkey has stated its commitment.

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/turkeyarrestsandtrialsagainstw/

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