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ECHR determines that sentencing of publisher violated free expression rights

(BIANET/IFEX) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has determined that the punishment of publisher Rahmi Akdas for reprinting the book "The Eleven Thousand Rods" ("Les onze mille verges"), by French writer Guillaume Apollinaire, was a violation of freedom of expression. The book is considered to be part of the European literary heritage.

The ECHR convicted Turkey of violating freedom of expression rights as regards the book written by Apollinaire, which was originally published in 1907. The book was banned in Turkey and Akdas, the owner of Hades Publishing, was convicted by a Turkish court. The publisher, who lives in the city of Bandırma, south of the Sea of Marmara, was sentenced to pay a fine of 684 Turkish Lira on the grounds of "obscenity" and "harming the inner feelings of the people" by publishing the book, which contains graphic descriptions of scenes of sexual intercourse, even though it is a fictional work. On 11 March 2004, the Court of Appeals approved the decision and called for the seizure and destruction of all copies of the book. Akdas was forced to pay the fine in November of that year.

The ECHR decision was announced on 16 February 2010. The court declared that there was nothing to say against the protection of moral values. Nevertheless, "acknowledgment of the cultural, historical and religious particularities of the Council of Europe's member states could not go so far as to prevent public access in a particular language, in this instance Turkish, to a work belonging to the European literary heritage."

The ECHR pointed out that the requirements of morals depend on time and place and, therefore, national authorities are more competent to perceive whether restrictions are necessary. However, in this case, the court determined that it should not be ignored that the work was initially published more than a century ago.

The court board, including Turkish judge Isıl Karakas, unanimously decreed that Akdas's conviction was a violation of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which covers freedom of expression. Since Akdas had not requested compensation, the court refrained from sentencing Turkey to pay a compensatory fine.

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