Writer Is Acquitted of 'Insulting Turkishness' With Her Novel

By Benjamin Harvey
Associated Press
Friday, September 22, 2006

ISTANBUL, Sept. 21 -- A leading Turkish author was acquitted Thursday of "insulting Turkishness" in a novel that touches on the mass killings of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

A panel of judges said there was no evidence to support the charge against Elif Shafak, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona whose novel, "The Bastard of Istanbul," was released in Turkey on March 8.

Shafak, 35, who gave birth to a daughter Saturday and did not attend her trial, expressed satisfaction with the verdict and called for greater freedoms and tolerance.

"You would counter writing with writing, not with a gun," Shafak told private NTV television about protests and scuffles that took place outside the courtroom after the verdict. "Insulting Turkishness? According to whom? Who determines it?"

The European Union has warned Turkey that putting writers and journalists on trial for their speech could hamper its efforts to join the bloc.

Turkey's courts have "established a restrictive interpretation of Article 301 of the penal code which is not in line with the European Court of Human Rights and European standards of freedom of expression," E.U. spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said after the decision.

The government is reluctant to change the law because it has broad nationalist support.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he was pleased with the acquittal and that Turkey was open to discussing Article 301. But in implicit support of the intent behind the law, he added: "Criticism is one thing, insulting is another."

Riot police contained protesters who scuffled with another group outside the courtroom after the ruling. A small group of nationalist lawyers outside the courthouse burned a picture of Shafak in protest. Some of the protesters held an E.U. flag adorned with a Nazi swastika and a slogan that read: "E.U. fascism."

Shafak's novel has sold more than 50,000 copies. The court case was brought for words spoken by fictional Armenian characters regarding one of the most disputed episodes of Turkey's history, the mass killings of Armenians nine decades ago during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

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