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A_Wanderer 09-18-2006 08:10 AM

Is Free Speech a Prerequisite for EU Membership?

TURKEY’S faltering hopes of European Union membership look set to be dealt a blow this week when Elif Shafak, one of the leading members of a new generation of Turkish female novelists, faces charges under the country’s draconian restrictions on freedom of speech.

Shafak, 34, is being tried under article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes it an offence to insult “Turkishness”. Her alleged crime is that a character in her latest bestselling novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, describes the massacres of Armenians in the late Ottoman Empire as a genocide — an interpretation which, although widely accepted internationally, is still vigorously denied by the Turkish state.

Although other Turks have faced charges for referring to the events of 1915-16 as a genocide, Shafak is the first writer to be prosecuted for words spoken by a character in a work of fiction.

Nor do the authorities seem concerned by the fact that, nine months pregnant, Shafak is expected to give birth to her first child at the same time that she is due in court.

Shafak is determined to appear to face the charges. “I don’t think the case has affected my health so far,” she said. “But of course it has made me anxious.”

The charges against Shafak come from the Union of Jurists, a group of ultra-nationalist lawyers led by Kemal Kerincsiz. “Shafak’s novel is not a work of literature. It is Armenian propaganda,” said Kerincsiz. “Initiating the case against Shafak was not just what we wanted to do, it was our duty.”

The Union of Jurists has already filed more than 30 cases against Turkish writers for alleged insults to “Turkishness”. Only one has been concluded so far and that resulted in a six-month suspended sentence for Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian. All the other cases, including one against Orhan Pamuk, perhaps Turkey’s most famous novelist, are still making their tortuous way through the Turkish judicial system.

Another nice situation where free speech defence does not entail only defending Nazis.

verte76 09-18-2006 11:41 AM

There is also a law in Turkey that makes it illegal to say anything disrepectful about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. They do have undemocratic laws and a pretty bad human rights record in Turkey.

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