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Author on trial for book deemed to "humiliate" religion

(WiPC/IFEX) - The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN is concerned by the opening of trial proceedings on 5 May 2009 against the noted Turkish author Nedim Gürsel for his book "Daughters of Allah". The book is seen to "humiliate the religious values of part of the population". The author faces charges under Article 216 (3) of the Turkish Penal Code relating to "incitement to enmity or hatred", which carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison.

Although Mr Gürsel lives in France, his publishing house, Dogan Publishing, is situated in the Sisli District of Istanbul, and the case was brought in 2008 to the Sisli Prosecutor's office. The Prosecutor initiated an investigation that concluded that there were no grounds to proceed. However, this decision was overruled and the case will be heard by the Beyoglu Heavy Criminal Court in Istanbul in early May.

A number of writers and publishers in Turkey have been prosecuted in recent years on similar grounds, notably the recent, and so far unsuccessful, cases brought against the Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkin's "God Delusion." There have been no recent cases of writers being imprisoned, and many do not result in convictions, yet the very existence of legislation that penalises commentary on religion acts as a deterrent. Whatever their outcome, the trials often take many months to conclude, and in some cases years, sapping financial and emotional resources. This is a price that some may not be willing to pay, choosing self-censorship instead.

International PEN has long campaigned against the trials of writers under a multitude of laws in Turkey that curtail free speech on issues ranging from commentary on human rights abuses by the army, corruption, the killings of Armenians in 1915, Kurdish issues, conscientious objection, religion, and so on. At present it is monitoring around 70 such trials. The trial against Nedim Gürsel is one more example of the continuing suppression of freedom of expression in Turkey. International PEN calls on the Turkish authorities to take note of the concerns that to proceed with his trial would bring Turkey in direct conflict with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to the European Convention on Human Rights to protect freedom of expression. It calls for an end to such trials and a thorough review of Turkish legislation aimed at the elimination of all articles that can lead to the prosecution of those who practice their rights to write freely and without hindrance.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to authorities:
- protesting the trial against Nedim Gürsel and other writers currently on trial in violation of their right to freedom of expression
- calling for a review of all legislation that allows for the prosecution of those who practice their rights as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

APPEALS TO:

Mehmet Ali Sahin
Minister of Justice
Adalet Bakanligi,
06659 Ankara, Turkey
Fax: + 90 312 419 3370

Appeals may also be sent to the Turkish ambassador in your country.

Please copy appeals to the source if possible. Please contact WiPC if sending appeals after 30 May 2009.

For more on Nedim Gürsel, go to: http://www.turkishculture.org/person_detail.php?ID=846

For a full list of writers and journalists on trial being monitored by International PEN (current as of December 2008) go to: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/files/dmfile/CaselistJulyDec2008.pdf

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