Turk court acquits author over remarks on military

Thursday, July 27, 2006; 11:05 AM

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - In a ruling sure to please the European Union and human rights groups, a Turkish court on Thursday acquitted an author and journalist of charges that she tried to deter people from doing their military service.

Perihan Magden had irked conservatives in Turkey's powerful armed forces and judiciary by defending a conscientious objector who was sentenced to four years in a military jail for refusing to wear his uniform.

All Turkish men over the age of 20 are required to serve up to 15 months in the armed forces. The law does not recognize the right to conscientious objection.

Magden had argued Turkey should establish a civilian service as an alternative to military service, as many EU members have done. Turkey is an EU candidate country, though it is not expected to join the wealthy bloc for many years.

An Istanbul court ruled that Magden's opinions fell within the scope of freedom of expression and did not constitute a crime under Turkey's revised penal code, the state-run Anatolian news agency said.

State prosecutor Kadir Nazmi Yelkenci had himself called for the acquittal of Magden, it said. Known in Turkey for her novels and newspaper columns, Magden had faced up to three years in jail if convicted.

Dozens more writers and journalists face prosecution in Turkey accused of insulting the state and its institutions. The armed forces are especially revered as the ultimate guardian of the mainly Muslim country's secular political system.

The EU has urged the government to modify articles in the penal code which make it relatively easy for prosecutors to open cases against those who question state policy or institutions.

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has so far resisted EU pressure to alter the articles, saying that freedom of expression cases rarely result in a conviction.

Earlier this year, best-selling novelist Orhan Pamuk escaped prosecution on a legal technicality after endorsing claims Ottoman Turkey committed genocide against Armenians during World War One. Turkey strongly denies the claims.

But Armenian-Turkish editor Hrant Dink fared less well. This month, a higher court confirmed his six-month suspended jail sentence over remarks he made about the genocide claims.

Security outside the courtroom on Thursday was tight. Ultra-nationalists often hurl abuse and even try to attack defendants in such human rights cases.

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