Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Turkey, The EU, and Intellectual Freedom

Writing in the Times of London, Salman Rushdie notes the plight of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk:

On September 1, 2005, Pamuk was indicted by a district prosecutor for having “blatantly belittled Turkishness” by his remarks. If convicted, he faces up to three years in jail. Article 301/1 of the Turkish penal code, under which Pamuk is to be tried, states that “a person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years . . . Where insulting being a Turk is committed by a Turkish citizen in a foreign country, the penalty shall be increased by one third.” So, if Pamuk is found guilty, he faces an additional penalty for having made the statement abroad.

You would think that the Turkish authorities might have avoided so blatant an assault on their most celebrated writer’s fundamental freedoms at the very moment that their application for full membership of the European Union — an extremely unpopular application in many EU countries — was being considered at the EU summit. However, in spite of being a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, Turkey continues to have and to enforce a penal code that is clearly contrary to these very same principles, and, in spite of widespread global protests, has set the date for Pamuk’s trial. It will begin, unless there is a change of heart, on December 16.

That Pamuk is criticised by Turkish Islamists and radical nationalists is no surprise. That the attackers frequently disparage his works as obscure and self-absorbed, accusing him of having sold out to the West, is no surprise either. It is, however, disappointing to read intellectuals such as Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations and a newspaper columnist, criticising “those, especially in the West, who would use the indictment against Pamuk to denigrate Turkey’s progress toward greater civil rights — and toward European Union membership”.

Ozel wants the charges against Pamuk thrown out at the trial in December, and accepts that they represent an “affront” to free speech, but prefers to stress “the distance that the country has covered in the past decade”. This seems altogether too weak. The number of convictions and prison sentences under the laws that penalise free speech in Turkey has indeed declined in the past decade, but International PEN’s records show that more than 50 writers, journalists and publishers currently face trials. Turkish journalists continue to protest against the (revised) penal code. The International Publishers Association, in a deposition to the UN, has described this revised code as being “deeply flawed”.

As Rushdie correctly points out, allowing Turkey to join the EU under these circumstances would make a mockery of the European Union's commitment to free speech and expression. It is time for Turkey to amend its laws and respect intellectual freedom.


Blogger Vladimir said...

I totally agree. But still I hope they will join some day. Off course only when Turkey becomes truely democratic and the rights of all people are respected (included the Kurds).

Good blog! Too bad you only hear things about Turkey in the international media.. when a writer faces a trial.

What about all those people, who've been killed and tortured?

6:22 PM  

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