Turkey: Writer and Academic Atilla Yayla prosecuted

***  UPDATE: PEN has learnt that the Izmir Court handed down a 15-month suspended jail term to Atilla Yayla on 28 January 2008. Professor Yayla told the BBC that he was prepared to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary and said: ‘I want to emphasise again and again that Turkey’s most pressing problem is freedom of expression’. Yayla added ‘What is important is that Turkey should evolve into being a country where people are not punished because of their thoughts. And to achieve this we ought to make reforms in the whole legal system and also change the mentality in the judiciary. Otherwise Turkey will go on suffering’. His lawyers intend to lodge an immediate appeal against the suspended sentence. ***

English PEN is deeply concerned to learn that Atilla Yayla, Professor of Political Philosophy at Gazi University in Ankara, has been charged with insulting the memory of Kemal Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic) under Law 5816. English PEN believes that this prosecution is in breach of the human right to freedom of expression.

In November 2006, Yayla participated in a panel discussion with a journalist from Zaman daily newspaper, and an MP with the ruling Justice and Development Party. The discussion topic was ‘Social Reflections on the EU Process’. In the debate Yayla questioned the Kemalist ideology, and argued that the basic foundations of civilization should include private property rights, accountable government and freedom of expression. He called for Turkey to re-evaluate its past by these standards and questioned whether the first republican period of 1925-1945 was as progressive as official propaganda claims.
 
Following these comments, a media campaign declared Yayla a traitor, he was suspended by Gazi University for three months, and proceedings were brought by the Public Prosecutor in Izmir to establish whether he had breached Law 5816. Initial hearings in his case were inconclusive. At the recent fourth hearing on 10 December 2007, the Public Prosecutor called for Yayla to be jailed for up to five years. The judge announced that the fifth session of Yayla’s trial will take place in Izmir City 8th Court of First Criminal Instance on 28 January 2008.

Yayla commented on his case saying: ‘I now believe they intend to use my case to further restrict freedoms in the country. If I am convicted, this would be a great blow to freedom of expression in Turkey.’

English PEN calls for the immediate acquittal of Yayla and supports calls for the repeal of Law 5816 in recognition of the fact that it is in contravention of international standards protecting the right to freedom of expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 10 of the European Covenant on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Turkey is a signatory.

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

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