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Academic given 15-month suspended sentence for comments about Ataturk

(BIANET/IFEX) - An Izmir court has sentenced Prof. Atilla Yayla to a suspended 15-month prison sentence for saying that Kemalism was "more regressive than progressive." He was sentenced under Law No. 5816, which protects the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The court announced the sentence for Yayla over utterances he made at a conference entitled "Social Effects of Relations Between the European Union and Turkey." In his talk, Yayla is alleged to have referred to Atatürk as "that man," an allegation that was enough initially to suspend him from his university post and to initiate a trial against him.

However, the court said that the sentence was ultimately based on a different utterance, in which Yayla said that "Kemalism corresponds more to regression than progression."

Among others, the Izmir Bar Association and the Atatürk Foundation joined the trial as complainants.

According to the court, a journalist from the "Yeni Asir" newspaper, Nuray Kaya, asked Yayla: "Have I understood you correctly, that Kemalism corresponds more to regression than progression?" Yayla then answered, "Yes, you heard correctly . . . In years to come, people will ask us why we have statues and photos of that man everywhere; you cannot cover this up; in the end it will be discussed."

Judge Niyazi Erdogan said in his justification for the sentence that Yayla was trying to pass off his own opinions as the ideas of EU authorities. In addition, although the term "that man" on its own did not constitute an insult, the utterance as a whole went "beyond an academic statement."

The suspended prison sentence was handed down on 28 January 2008, and has already been condemned by English PEN. The organisation said that Yayla's lawyers planned an immediate appeal (which they in fact proceeded with on 29 January). PEN added: "English PEN calls for the immediate acquittal of Yayla and supports calls for the repeal of Law 5816 in recognition of the fact that it is in contravention of international standards protecting the right to freedom of expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 10 of the European Covenant on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Turkey is a signatory."

Yayla will be on probation for two years. After his sentencing, Yayla made a statement to "The Guardian" newspaper, in which he said that he would now face problems in academia.

Enforcement of Law 5816 has led to the imprisonment of writer Mustafa Islamoglu and journalist Hakan Albayrak, as well as Ahmet Önal, owner of Peri Publications.

Others who have been prosecuted under the law are: journalist Ipek Calislar, publishers Ragip Zarakolu and Fatih Tas, translators Lütfi Taylan Tosun and Aysel Yildirim, Zehra Comakli Türkmen of the Özgür-Der Children's Club, and journalists Mehmet Terzi and Oral Calislar.

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