Monday, January 23, 2006

"Abandoning the Duty of the Painted Bench" (Pamuk charges dropped)

Reuters reports that charges against Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk have been dropped. He was originally accused of insulting "Turkishness" when he referred to the genocide of the Armenians in the 1910s, in an interview with a European reporter.

Under Turkey's Article 301, many writers have been charged and imprisoned over the years for criticizing the government, Turkishness, or the memory of Kemal Ataturk (though there is actually a separate law for that). And besides Pamuk, there are a number of active cases that should still concern us. Amnesty has a long list:

Hrant Dink is a journalist and the editor of the Armenian-language weekly newspaper Agos, which is published in Istanbul. On 7 October 2005, Hrant Dink was given a six-month suspended prison sentence by the Sisli Court of First Instance No. 2 in Istanbul for “denigrating Turkishness” in an article he wrote on Armenian identity. According to the prosecutor in the case, Hrant Dink had written his article with the intention of denigrating Turkish national identity.

Sehmus Ulek is the Vice-President of the Turkish human rights NGO Mazlum Der. On 28 April 2005 the Sanlıurfa Court of First Instance No. 3 started hearing a case against him and Hrant Dink, under Article 159 of the old TPC (now Article 301) for speeches they made during a conference organized by Mazlum Der’s Urfa branch on 14 December 2002 entitled “Global Security, Terror and Human Rights, Multi-culturalism, Minorities and Human Rights”. Sehmus Ulek referred in his speech to the nation-building project of the Turkish Republic as it had affected, in particular, the southeastern area of the country; Hrant Dink discussed his own relationship to official conceptions of Turkish identity. The next hearing of the case will take place on 9 February 2006.

A trial began in May 2005 at the Beyoglu Court of First Instance No. 2 in Istanbul against publisher Ragip Zarakolu for his publication of a Turkish translation of a book by Dora Sakayan entitled Experiences of an Armenian Doctor: Garabet Hacheryan's Izmir Journal (Bir Ermeni Doktorun Yasadıkları: Garabet Haceryan'ın İzmir Guncesi; Istanbul: Belge 2005). Ragip Zarakolu had been charged under Article 159 of the TPC for “denigrating Turkishness and the security forces”, and then under Article 301 after the new TPC came into effect.

Fatih Tas is a 26-year-old student of Communications and Journalism at Istanbul University and the owner of Aram publishing house. He is currently being tried under Article 301 because he published a Turkish translation of a book by the American academic John Tirman, entitled Savas Ganimetleri: Amerikan Silah Ticaretinin Insan Bedeli (Istanbul: Aram, 2005) (The Spoils of War: the Human Cost of America’s Arms Trade), that reportedly includes a map depicting a large section of Turkey as traditionally Kurdish and alleges that the Turkish military perpetrated a number of human rights abuses in the south-east of the country during the 1980s and 1990s.

Murat Pabuc was a lieutenant in the Turkish army who retired on grounds of disability. Whilst still serving, he witnessed the massive earthquake that hit Turkey in August 1999, as well as the institutional corruption that he alleges followed it. He became disillusioned with his military duties, seeing soldiers as being alienated from ordinary people, and began to refuse orders. He eventually began undergoing psychiatric treatment. In June 2005 he published his book Boyalı Bank Nobetini Terk Etmek; the literal translation of this title is "Abandoning the Duty of the Painted Bench." It alludes to a Turkish anecdote which portrays a pastiche of a soldier following orders unquestioningly. He believes that this was the only way for him to express what he had experienced in the army. As a result he is facing a trial for “public denigration of the military” under Article 301.

Birol Duru is a journalist. On 17 November 2005 he was charged with "denigrating the security forces" under Article 301 because he published on the Dicle news agency a press release from the Human Rights Association (IHD) Bingol branch which stated that the security forces were burning forests in Bingol and Tunceli. The president of IHD’s Bingol branch, Rıdvan Kızgın, is also charged under other legislation for the contents of the press release. Rıdvan Kızgın has had over 47 cases opened against him since 2001, and Amnesty International is currently running a web action
for him as part of its ongoing campaigning work on human rights defenders in Turkey and Eurasia. Birol Duru is due to be sentenced on 8 December 2005.(link)

Over at Verbal Privilege, Elizabeth echoes Amnesty, in worrying about all of the active cases, not just Pamuk's:

That said, I'm still worried about the many ongoing cases against other writers, journalists, publishers, and activists that do not receive a fraction of the attention Pamuk's case got. The cases of people like Hrant Dink, Ragip Zarakolu, and Ferhat Tunç are a more crucial barometer of freedom of expression in Turkey--we'll see what happens to persectued writers and artists who do not enjoy the benefit of an international outcry.


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