Thursday, September 21, 2006

Turkish novelist acquitted

The Turkish novelist Elif Shafak has been acquitted today of the charges of "insulting Turkishness" after the prosecution decided to drop its charges.

Shafak had faced up to three years in prison because of remarks made by a fictional character in her novel 'The Bastard of Istanbul'. The character had referred to the massacre of Armenians in the first world war as genocide. The prosecution believed that her work was in contravention of Article 301 of the Turkish penal code which criminalises the "public denigration" of Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, the Grand National Assembly, the government, judiciary, military and security services.

The outcome of this trial was keenly anticipated across much of Europe. If Turkey is to join the EU in 2015 the limitations it currently places on freedom of speech will undoubtedly have to be lifted. Article 301 has been in existence for over a year and already 60 authors have been charged since its introduction.

It is the first time the prosecutor has decided to drop charges of this nature and may well mark a watershed in Turkish history.

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