Report from joint mission to Istanbul and Ankara

Report from joint mission to Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the trials of Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu on the 2nd of  March 2005

The reasons for this mission were two fold: To defend the historian professor Fikret Baskaya and the publisher Ragip Zarakolu by being present during their trials which took place the same day in Ankara and Istanbul. And use these cases as a symbol for all the more than 60 freedom of expression cases which are going on in Turkey at the moment. Despite the Turkish authorities declarations that they want their legislation to come in line with European standards on human rights, the continuance of these trials proves that there is more to be done.

Both Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu have been Honorary Members of several of our centres for many years. Both have a long record as freedom of expression fighters in Turkey, both have spent years in prison for their struggle, and both are highly regarded and well known intellectuals inside Turkey as well as internationally.

For more background information see the joint document published by International PEN and International Publishers Assosiation.

The mission was arranged by PEN and IPA (International Publishers Assosiation) with observers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. All together we were 14 delegates from Canada, England, Holland, Norway, Scotland and Switzerland. Seven monitored the trial of Fikret Baskaya in Ankara. – Seven stayed in Istanbul for the Ragip Zarakolu hearing.

Fikret Baskaya was tried on charges of “insult to the State, State institutions, and the military” under article 159 of the current Penal Code. He could face a three-year sentence for articles he wrote in the early nineties (since republished as a book entitled “Articles against the Current”)  After a trial totally dominated by the defence, and introduced by a strong speech by Fikret Baskaya himself, where he accused the judicial authorities in Turkey of letting the criminals go and sentence the victims, he was acquitted.

Ragip Zarakolu was charged with “incitement to racial hatred” under article 312 of the current Penal Code, for an article where he was critical of Turkeys foreign policy on Kurdish issues. The charges carry a two-year sentence.

After a chaotic hearing, where the judge never showed up (the explanation given was that he had no time for the trial because he was on a training program – an explanation given to Ragip Zarakolu, the delegation and the audience after one hour of waiting),  an assistant judge who obviously had no knowledge what so ever about the case postponed it until the 12 May.
The Delegations program:
On the first of March the delegation held a press conference at Taksim Hill Hotel. Also present were Turkish PEN, the Turkish Publishers Assosiation and last but not least Sanar Yurdatapan´s organisation FOX who helped us with the practicalities. Here the different members of the delegation gave speeches and statements, and described the reason why we had decided to highlight these two trials. We also declared our dissatisfaction with the new amendments the Turkish Penal Code. (see background doc.) And stated that our organisations could not accept moderations to articles which should be abolished once and for all if Turkey wants to live up to European judicial standards.

On the second of March, after the trial of Fikret Baskaya a press conference was held at the Free  University, Institute for Middle East Studies in Ankara, where the delegation welcomed the acquittal of Baskaya, but at the same time stressed the need for further and more substantial amendments to the Turkish Penal Code. We stated that there is a long way still to go for Turkey to live up to European standards on human rights and freedom of expression. We also pointed out the need to end, without any more delay the systematic use of torture which still is reported from several parts of the country.

Eugene Schoulgin, Beate Slydal from Amnesty International and Elisabeth Dyvik from Norwegian PEN then had a meeting with the EU ambassador to Turkey Mr. HansJürg Kretschmer and his assistant Mrs. Sema Kilicer. To the delegates satisfaction it became clear that the general views on the situation and the development in Turkey expressed by us was in line with thos of the EU Ambassador. He stressed the importance not to let the Turkish authorities fall back in old habits just because the EU had agreed to discuss their candidacy. He had registered a tendency of stagnation in the work for reforms, and he also pointed out the importance of the Turkish NGOs, and the old ones in particular, in the work to push the evaluation in the right direction. The government had appointed a number of new bodies to act as a kind of observers in the regions, with a most obscure status of semi non governmental organisations(!) These organisation´s role is obviously to bring back positive reports for use in Turkeys negotiations with EU.

Mr. Kretschmer also agreed in our view that the articles we are concerned about had to be abolished.

After that Eugene Schoulgin had a meeting with Head of Department in the Ministry of Justice Judge Ergin Ergül and Undersecretary Judge Fahri Kasirga. Giving the same views as before judge Ergül pointed out that amendments would follow in a high speed now. He also admitted that the Turkish State had committed a lot of wrong doings up through its history, and that it was high time to get in line with the rest of Europe.

Two concrete new facts came out of this meeting, Judge Ergin Ergül told that from the first of April this year prosecutors could not any more order judges to open cases. The decision would be in the hands of the judges. Second, more than nine thousand prosecutors and judges were at the moment undergoing a special training to learn the way European colleagues conducted their judicial work.

In Istanbul Alexis Krikorian begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting visited the French consul. Unfortunately the result of this meeting was not as positive as the one we had with the EU Commissioner Ambassador Kretschmer. To our astonishment we have to admit that neither he, who represented an EU state, nor the Norwegian Ambassador the delegation met in Ankara, had a very strong stand on the Freedom off Expression issues we were advocating. On the opposite we were warned against getting involved with Turkish organisations that could influence negatively on our credibility in the eyes of the Turkish authorities. Since these organisations all represent a more than twenty year resistance in Turkey, have the highest credibility internationally, and have been our natural partners since the time of the military dictatorship, we have to point out that these warnings were quite remarkable.

The last evening Beate Slydal, Franca Tiberto from Swiss-Italian PEN, Alexis Krikorian begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting and Eugene Schoulgin were invited to a dinner with the Marmara Group in Istanbul. The Marmara Group is a well known and important platform in Turkey concerned with reforms and the image of Turkey seen from abroad. In this Marmara Group we find former and present ministers, high ranking politicians, militaries, businessmen, journalists, scientists, people from left to right. The speaker on this occasion was our old acquaintance Ambassador Kretschmer. Since he had been most rudely attacked the day before by the Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül for his criticism of the development in Turkey, everyone looked forward to his reaction.

He repeated more or less what he had told us in Ankara two days before.

Beate Slydal asked the audience about their opinion on the judicial reforms, but got no answer. Eugene Schoulgin asked Mr. Kretschmer if he was of the opinion that a country which kept so many taboos both about their recent history, and their relations to their minorities, their dead leaders, their official bodies and actual politics could be a member of EU.

I would say the mission was a success. We became visible. Fikret Baskaya was acquitted, although Ragip Zarakolus case remains unsolved. This is not unusual in cases such as his which go on over a long time. He has new trials against him, and much is still to be done. The co-operation with IPA has become a valuable reinforcement in our struggle, and the participation of so many PEN members from so many centres is of importance both for our visibility from outside, and for a more concrete understanding of the nature of missions among the WiP committees.

I would like to end by thanking all those who took part in this mission for their commitment, dedication and active participation.

Eugene Schoulgin

Oslo 22.03.2005




IPA is very much concerned about: 1. the legal impediments to the practice of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey; 2. the current tendency of Turkish Security Courts to harass writers, journalists and publishers by putting them on trial more and more often, fining them or just postponing trials indefinitely; 3. the implementation problem.

IPA therefore calls upon the Turkish authorities to repeal all the incriminating legislation that impose heavy fines and prison sentences against writers and publishers solely for criticizing the Turkish State or tackling one of the many taboos that plague Turkish society (Position of the Military, Kurdish Question, Armenian Genocide, Kemalism, Women’s Liberation and Islamic Law): Articles 159, 169, 312 of the Turkish Penal Code, Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, Law 5816 (Protecting Atatürk’s memory), Article 81 of the Copyright Law. It is unacceptable to treat writers, journalists and publishers as potential terrorists/criminals and to judge them in the same courts as drug traffickers and/or real terrorists. State Security Courts (SSCs) should be abolished for real, in particular for creators and publishers of content. A name change is not enough.

While welcoming the legislative and constitutional changes in Turkey (e.g.: Repeal of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law), the IPA calls upon the Turkish authorities to implement the many reforms that were passed (e.g.: Trials still take place in abolished SSCs). Many changes have occurred in Turkey in terms of Freedom of expression, but seeing that a certain law article lifted after a great struggle returns under another name or just through practice is frustrating. Implementation is key and must not surrender to bureaucratic conservatism or any other hurdle.

*  IPA trial observation mission (Istanbul SSC # 3, 1-4 December 2003) to attend Ragip Zarakolu’s trial in the “12 September regime under trial” case. Ragip Zarakolu acquitted;
*   At the request of the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA), joint IPA/International PEN protest letter to Turkish authorities regarding the latest draft of Press Law # 4757 (17 December 2003);
* At the request of TPA, 30 March 2004 joint letter with the International Booksellers Federation (IBF) against the “banderole system[1]”;
* Joint IPA/International PEN round tables on Civil and Political Rights in Turkey (7-8 April 2004, United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR), Geneva);
* Joint IPA/International PEN oral statement before the UNCHR under item 11 (civil and political rights). Subject: Freedom of expression in Turkey. Legislative changes welcomed. Continued harassment of publishers denounced.
*       27th Congress of the IPA (Berlin, 21-24 June 2004): Speakers of the Freedom to Publish session included: Müge Sökmen, Director of the Turkish WiPC, Director Metis Publishers: “FTP in Turkey”.


1. 2003-2004 Freedom to Publish Figures
Last year, according to the report of the TPA, 43 books were banned and 37 writers and 17 publishers were put on trial. Main confiscation grounds were minority issues, obscenity, and the expression of opinions regarding the practices of the State and its officials. The Association states that this year fewer cases are opened against publishers and authors, and more trials result in acquittal.

2. Article 426 of the Turkish Penal Code: An amendment that underlines the implementation problem
In 2003, Article 426[2] of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) was referred to to confiscate and ban books (as well as newspapers, magazines, articles, ads, pictures, films…) by Elfride Jelinek, Jonathan Ames, Pedro Almodovar or Irvine Welsh, on the grounds of obscenity. On the one hand, Istanbul Peace Penal Court # 1 ordered the confiscation of the book “Enough, Don’t Hurt My Skin” by Meltem Arikan (publisher: Everest Publishing House) in February 2004 following an order from the “Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications” based on Article 426 of the TPC. On the other hand, Metis Publishing’s “Women’s slang dictionary”, which had been put to court for obscenity, was acquitted in June 2004. Article 426 has been amended so as to exclude scientific and artistic works and works of literary value from the scope of this article. But as the “Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications”, a body established under the Prime Ministry to work as official experts for judicial bodies in “obscenity cases” is not abolished, we ought to remain cautious. If official expertise remains in the hands of a committee linked to the government, the risk of political and/or ideological decisions continues[3].

3. State Security Courts (SSCs) abolished: A step forward?
SSCs succeeded Martial Law Courts in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup. In June 2004, the Turkish Parliament removed the SSC from Turkey’s Constitution. However, the authorities have failed to specify what would happen to trials already under way. Besides, it is unclear yet what courts will succeed the SSCs and what they will be named[4]. As recently as 15 June 2004, Abdurrahman Dilipak[5], journalist and author, was tried at a SSC for criticising some generals in an article entitled: “When the Generals are not obedient”. His lawyers declared that, given the recent changes in the law, it was impossible for Mr. Dilipak to be judged before a SSC. As a consequence, the case was adjourned until 12 July 2004. The case would have been deferred to a civilian court in Bakirkoy.

The trial of Publisher Ragip Zarakolu, initially due to take place on 26 May 2004, was postponed to 10 September 2004 by a SSC. According to information received from Turkey, the mere presence of foreign observers[6] would have led to this decision. Publisher Ragip Zarakolu is being accused for having written an article questioning the goals of Turkish foreign policy in Iraq. Since the SSCs are now removed from Turkey’s Constitution, Ragip Zarakolu risks being judged and convicted in absentia (he will be attending the PEN Congress in Norway) by a non-existing court on 10 September 2004!

4. Article 312[7] of the Turkish Penal Code: An uncertain future
There have been several acquittals in Article 312 cases (“incitement to hatred on the basis of class, religion or race”). This article has been used as a way to penalise writers and publishers who support minority issues. One example of this is the acquittal of Ömer Asan’s “Pontus Culture” (Belge Pub.). Gazi Çağlar’s “12 September is Being Judged” (Belge Pub.) was also acquitted on 3 December 2003. A TPA report states that the acquittals of Jwadie’s “Historical Roots and Development of Kurdish Nationalism” (İletişim), Naci Kutlay’s “Kurds in the eve of 21st Century” (Peri), Tori’s “Famous Kurdish Scientists and Intellectuals” (Sorun) and “Mustafa Barzani and Kurdish Liberation Movement” (Doz) show the positive climate surrounding the Kurdish issue further to the latest reforms.

Despite this obvious improvement, cases of “judicial harassment” continue: Ahmet Kahraman’s “Kurdish Resurrection” is still being tried and publisher Ahmet Onal’s acquittal in a 312 case was appealed by the Supreme Court of Appeal (book accused: “Alevism in Dersim”). Not only was the acquittal decision quashed by the Court of Appeal, but he was also brought to court on two new separate cases (Art. 159 TPC and Atatürk’s memory).

A very important step may have been taken in late June this year. Indeed, Attorney General for Supreme Court of Appeals would have publicly stated that this Article should be re-evaluated and advised that all cases tried under this Article should be freed unless there is an open and evident call for violence.

5. Article 159[8] of the Turkish Penal Code
This article still creates many freedom of expression problems in Turkey. Just to give one recent example, the re-print of Fikret Başkaya’s book “Articles against the Current” has been put to court under this article and the case will continue on 9 September 2004. Another case is that of publisher Ali Varis who is currently on trial for “Anatolia – from multiculturalism to monoculturalism”.

6. Minority issues
“Allegations of genocide against Armenians and Kurds” is a ground that is sometimes brought against writers and publishers. This is for instance the case of publisher Ali Varis and writer Mamo Bayram for the book entitled: “Kocgiri – Northwest Dersim”. This book is banned. Mr. Varis faces the risk of imprisonment.

The premises of Agos weekly newspaper, published in both Armenian and Turkish, were threatened by a group of extremist demonstrators on 26 February 2004 because of an article about Sabiha Gökçen, Turkey’s first woman pilot and Atatürk’s adopted daughter, which claimed that she had Armenian roots.

7. Protecting Atatürk’s memory
Having been found guilty of violating the 1951 Law protecting Atatürk’s memory (Law 5816) for an article he wrote in Milli Gazete, journalist Hakan Albayrak is currently serving a 15 months prison sentence. Herkül Milas’s book “Exile” based on the memories of the Greeks that were expelled from Anatolia during the compulsory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1924 was also tried for “insulting Atatürk’s memory”.

8. Article 8 repealed, but Article 7 and Article 169 of TPC used instead
Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, prosecuting writers and publishers on the grounds of “advocating terrorist propaganda” was repealed last year. We had called for it. So we do welcome this. However, Article 7 of the same law and Article 169 of the TPC are used instead.  (“Aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation”)[9].

Following the repeal of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, Ismail Besikci, author of numerous books on Kurdish issues, and his publisher Unsal Ozturk of Yurt Publishers, applied to the State Security Court in Ankara on 30 July 2003 for a formal appeal for annulment of the court decision on the confiscation of 20 book titles[10] which had been confiscated under Article 8. However, the Ankara SSCs # 1 and 2 rejected two separate applications in December 2003 and January 2004 almost entirely, lifting the confiscation order only for 5 of the titles on the ground that “contents of the confiscated books still carry the elements of crimes defined in Article 312/2 TPC and Article 7 Anti-Terror Law”.

9. Law on the Intellectual and Artistic Properties (1951 Copyright Law # 5846): A potential tool for censorship
The Ministry of Culture administers the banderole system as set out in law # 4630 (2001) amending the 1951 Copyright law. The certification procedure entails that all works must be submitted to the Ministry of Culture along with authorising contracts signed by the creators of the works in order to obtain a hologram sticker for each work. These stickers must be affixed to all copies of the works before they can be put on the market. The Ministry of Culture has the discretionary power to provide the said banderoles or not, thus exercising a form of pre-publication control over publishing activities in Turkey. Moreover, the control chain extends to booksellers, which have been requested, at times, to close their shops if they did not display the said stickers on the books they sell. Finally, the criminal sanctions[11] provided for failure to affix compulsory stickers to books have met with legitimate hostility from publishers, newspapers and some authors.

10. New Press Law: A step forward to be tested
“Yeniden Özgür Gündem” newspaper has had to close down on 28 February 2004, after 545 days of publication. During that period, the newspaper was closed down for 4 days, the editor in chief was imprisoned for 25 months and the newspaper has had to pay very high fines. Recently, “Dersim” newspaper was put to court for publishing Kurdish articles, not because they were in Kurdish, but because they had not stated in their formal application that they would be using Kurdish! This case, launched in February 2004 by the Izmir Penal Court of First Instance against Ali Ekber Coskun[12], Dersim’s editor-in-chief, has been postponed first to 27 April and second to 29 June 2004. According to information received from Turkey, the case has been postponed again. It is unclear when the next hearing will take place. Since the Press Law has just been changed, the impact on this case is yet to be seen.

The Press Law was amended by Parliament on 9 June 2004. Changes include:

The inclusion of § 2 of Art. 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights into the law (Art. 3[13]),

The decrease of fines, in particular for “administrative failures”,

An improvement in relation to the disclose of sources,

Restrictions to confiscations of books or periodicals subject to a judicial decision.

The changes above are most welcome. The Public Prosecutor can only confiscate three copies of a published work. Moreover, should he fail to get a judge’s approval within 48 hours, confiscation is abolished. However, should a book or a periodical be confiscated according to the following law articles, then all of the copies can be confiscated (subject to a judge’s decision): Crimes against Atatürk (5816), Constitution Art. 174 Crimes Concerning Republican Revolutions, Turkish Penal Code 146/2, 153/1 and 4, 155, 311/1 and 2, 312/2 and 4, 312/a, Anti-Terror Law Art. 7/2 and 5[14].

[1] The banderole system has failed this far to combat book piracy effectively and is accused by our Turkish colleagues to be a potential tool for censorship.  For more, see paragraph on copyright law, p 3.

[2] “Whoever exhibits obscene books, newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, documents, articles, advertisements, pictures, illustrations, photographs, movie films or other items; or who puts on stage or show these things in theatres, cinemas or other public places, or who knowingly distributes or sells or suffers them, or the photograph records of the same nature, to be distributed or sold, or who in order to make profit or to distribute or exhibit such items, draws, illustrates, carves, manufactures, prints, or reproduces such items, or records them on photograph records, or imports, exports or transports them form one locality to another in Turkey, or suffers the foregoing activities to be performed, or who performs any transaction respecting any of the foregoing objects, or performs any transaction to facilitate the trade thereof, or who, in any manner, makes publicly known the ways of procuring, directly or indirectly, these documents or items, shall be imprisoned for one month to two years and shall be sentenced to pay a heavy fine.”

[3] The feminist novel “Stop Hurting my Flesh” by Meltem Arikan based on true child abuse, incest and domestic violence cases was labeled a threat to the Turkish family system by the “Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications” and was thus confiscated by the Istanbul 1 Magistrate Criminal Court. This confiscation order took place after the 1st July 2003 amendment to Art. 426 of the TPC. The so-called “immoral parts” have been removed from the 4th reprint of the novel.

[4] “In a trial scheduled at SSC # 2 in Ankara, the name of the court was amended to the Ankara Serious Crimes Court in the case files.”, Such a name for the successor of SSCs is questionable. Is the accused more likely to be convicted in the end? Is the Military still involved in the running of these Serious Crimes Courts?

[5] Abdurrahman Dilipak had been sentenced to 18 months in jail for inciting religious hatred and discrimination in an article published in a June 2002 issue of the “Cuma” magazine by Istanbul SSC # 2. Dilipak’s penalty was deferred because he was not expected to re-offend.

[6] Including Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) Chair Eugene Schoulgin

[7] One who openly praises an action considered criminal under the law or speaks positively about it or incites people to disobey the law shall be sentenced from six months to two years of imprisonment and to a heavy fine.

[8] Those who publicly insult or ridicule Turkish national identity, the Republic, the Parliament, the Government, State Ministers, the Military, security forces of the State, or the Judiciary will be punished with a penalty of no less than six months (down from one year) security imprisonment. Another amendment ensures that expressions of thought undertaken solely for the purpose of criticism (and not insult) do not incur any penalties. Here, the assessment by the judge of the difference between criticism and insult leaves room for further abuse.

[9] The seventh package narrowed the scope of Article 169 of the Penal Code (“aiding and abetting terrorist organisations”) by removing the provision sanctioning “actions which facilitated the operation of terrorist organisations in any manner whatsoever”. The First Harmonisation Law amended the earlier version of the Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law so that, in order to punish the person(s) who were considered to have committed the offence of “making propaganda for the terrorist organisation”, the person(s) should have “advocated the use of methods of terror.” The heavy fines were also increased tenfold, from “50 million to 100 million liras” to “500 million to 1 billion liras.” The Seventh Harmonisation Law further amended this article, by adding the word “violence” into the definition of the breach of Article 7: if person(s) “advocated the use of violence and other methods of terror.”

[10] 2003 WiPC Report on Book Bannings in Turkey (released: April 2004); 8 titles out of 23 according to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, April 2004 Report,

[11] Article 81 – as amended in March 2001 – provides that infringements of banderole-regime products should result in a prison sentence from 4 to 6 years and a heavy fine from 50 to 150 billion Turkish Liras. It does not distinguish among street sellers, distributors and manufacturers of illegal products


[13] “The press is free. This freedom covers getting, disseminating, criticizing and interpreting information and creating a work. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

[14] These are articles on crimes against the unity of the state, urging the soldiers to disobey, provoking the public to commit a crime, advocating crime, and terrorising the public.

Trials against literature in Turkey

Trials against literature in Turkey

By Kjell Olaf Jensen, president of Norwegian PEN
In April this year, a Scandinavian delegation went to Turkey to observe a couple of trials against literature and freedom of expression. According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, which is a Turkish organization, there were 456 such trials in the country during the year 2001.

The delegation mainly went to observe the trial against the Swedish-Kurdish author Mehmed Uzun, who was accused of having violated the Turkish Security Law by committing separatism and instigating to terror in a speech held in front of 6000 listeners in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on the banks of the river Tigris in south-eastern Turkey in January 2000. In this speech, Mr Uzun’s message was that Kurds and Turks should live as brothers and friends in one and the same nation. For this, he risked up to 15 years’ prison.

The delegation consisted of seven Swedish lawyers and publishers, one member of Swedish PEN’s board (the writer Peter Mossige), one member of the Danish Artists’ Council and five members of Norwegian PEN, among them Mehmed Uzun’s Norwegian publisher, one of the country’s best cultural journalists and the writer Thorvald Steen, who also is an internationally recognized expert on Turkey – plus Norwegian PEN’s vice president Kirsti Blom and myself.

We had some days in Istanbul before the first trial we were going to observe, namely the trial against Mehmed Uzun’s Turkish publisher, Mr Hazan Öztoprak from the publishing house Gendas, who was accused of having published a book of interviews with Mr Uzun. Ten passages from the book were found to be in violation of the Security Law; the worst one runs as follows: “I am a Kurd, I come from Turkey. And I am a Scandinavian, I come from Sweden.” This terrible book was forbidden by Turkish authorities during the Book Fair in Frankfurt last October, and both the International Publishers’ Association and German PEN made a scandal about this at the Book Fair.

We took the extra days in Istanbul to make some contacts – we saw the publishers in question, their lawyers, and some key journalists. We also met Mehmed Uzun’s Kurdish publisher, an extremely courageous man by the name Abdullah Keskin who usually has eight or ten charges against him any time, but who was not to appear before the court just now. We saw to it that our presence got as much coverage in the press as possible – of course, only the non-Turkish language newspapers could bring actual articles, but all the same, the authorities should know
that the trials would be watched.

The trial against Mr Öztoprak was conducted before State Security Court No.6 in Besiktas, Istanbul on April 16th. After having seen the impressive crowd of foreign observers in the small court room and called the two witnesses (Mehmed Uzun and the literary critic Ömer Türkes who had written the preface to the book of interviews), which took ten minutes alltogether, the judges declared that the trial was ajourned untill 20th June, to give the prosecutor time to study the case (he had only had six months) and to decide whether he should put charges against Mr Uzun and Mr Türkes as well.

After this very short trial indeed, we left the court and stood a while outside discussing with the national and international press, while people who were accused in other trials arrived in chains in heavily guarded prison trucks from faraway villages and towns.

Next day, we left for Ankara, where we had meetings with the Scandinavian ambassadors to hear what our embassies could do with these trials against literature and freedom of expression. The participants from Norwegian PEN took the responsibility for persuading the Norwegian ambassador, which turned out to be extremely easy – the Embassy having already established a tradition to monitor these trials as far as possible for a small embassy with only five employees. The Swedish ambassador was herself going with us to Diyarbakir to be present at the trial against Mehmed Uzun, since he was a Swedish citizen – just as the Swedish Consul General in Istanbul had been present at the trial against Hazan Öztoprak.

When we arrived at the State Security Court No.4 in Diyarbakir on 19th April, it turned out that the trial would be some three hours delayed, which gave us time to be present at another trial before the Criminal Court of Diyarbakir, against a group of medical doctors – physicians – who were accused of having established a rehabilitation centre for torture victims, without permission. Here, the prosecutor openly expressed his astonishment at the many foreign observers present.  The doctors were acquitted; but another charge against them, of having been found in possession of one copy of a magazine which was prohibited not in Turkey, but in Diyarbakir, and of some dubious medicines which had been sent as test material from some pharmaceutical company, was passed on to a higher court.

Then came the trial against Mehmed Uzun, and now the judicia authorities knew in beforehand that this trial would be closely followed by foreign writers, publishers, journalists and embassies. Mr Uzun was allowed to read a 20 minutes’ speech which had been widely circulated in English in beforehand. In his speech, Mr Uzun underlined what he saw as the role of literature, namely to build bridges across conflicts and bring understanding between different peoples all over the world.

After having heard this speech, the prosecutor declared that the whole process was a misunderstanding for which he personally had no responsibility, since it was not he who had taken it up. He thus withdrew the whole charge against Mehmed Uzun.

What decided the judicial authorities to withdraw these charges?  Was it Mehmed Uzun’s eminent, peaceful speech? Did an intelligent prosecutor realize the absurdity of the task he had been given? Was it the massive international press campaign(s)? Was it the great number of foreign observers, Swedish ambassador in front, in the court room?

I do not know, but I should wish I did. The title of this conference is “The role of literature in prevention of conflict” – which was also the theme of Mehmed Uzun’s defense speech in Diyarbakir, where his future as a free man was literally at stake. I wish to see a world where literature really can play its role to prevent conflicts; but to reach that stage, it seems to me that we must first prevent conflict-makers from destroying literature, from destroying publishers and from destroying writers.

That is why I am going back to Istanbul the day after tomorrow, to be present in the State Security Court room at the trial against a man whom I have learned to respect, admire and love. It is people like Hazan Öztoprak at the publishing house Gendas who are fighting for the right to freedom of expression, with their own, personal freedom being at stake; it is people like Mr Öztoprak who can teach us what this fight is about. The very least thing we can do is to support them, to show them that they are not alone, and – not least – to show the authorities in countries suppressing the right to freedom of expression that these people are not alone. That is why I shall be present at the State Security Court on the 20th. I have also persuaded Eugene Schoulgin to go with me – which was not at all difficult.

And Turkey alone brought 456 Hazan Öztopraks and Mehmed Uzuns to court only during the year 2001.

I think Bucuresti is one of the best places in Europe to mention these sad affairs, since you know better than most what it is all about.

Welcome to Norwegian PEN
Norwegian PEN is the Norwegian division of International PEN, which was founded in England in 1921.  PEN is short for «Poets, Essayists and Novelists» or «Poets, Editors and Novelists».  Norwegian PEN was founded in 1922.  The purpose of the organization was twofold: firstly to establish an international, literary organization – the only global one one that still exists, secondly to create an organization that could work and fight for authors´ and other writers´ right to freedom of expression.  This was prior to international conventions on human rights that surfaced from the 1940s.