The Orhan Pamuk Trial: Turkey’s Free Speech Test

The BBC has a story today about the upcoming trial of celebrated Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who faces three years in jail for “insulting Turkishness.” His alleged crime? Making the following statement in public: “Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands [ie, Turkey] and nobody but me dares to talk about it.”
Despite the many reforms Turkey has enacted to increase the odds of getting into the EU, free speech continues to face many challenges, particularly on issues related to Turkish involvement in Armenian deaths during World War I. Armenians and countless historians worldwide regard these deaths as a genocide, but refering to them as such can get you thrown in jail. Journalists and authors have protested the trial; most recently, a group of international prize-winning authors including Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, John Updike and Mario Vargas Llosa have issued their support of Pamuk.
EU governments, no doubt, will follow the trial closely, given their negotiations with Turkey surrounding membership in the continental club. No matter how the trial goes, it saddens me to no end to see one of my favorite authors on trial in a country I love dearly for merely stating the truth. If countries such as Germany, South Africa and Rwanda can come to terms with eggregious human rights abuses made in the past, why can’t Turkey?
I personally support Turkey’s bid for EU membership. But foolish show trials such as this seriously cause me to question whether they’re ready for it. Economic reforms are just one criteria for membership; freedom of expression and human rights must be respected and taken seriously as well.
And don’t expect to see many people blogging about the case, except perhaps foreign nationals; Turkish bloggers, conceivably, could get arrested just for covering the trial and the statement in question. So far, I’ve only found one Turkish language blogger talking about it. I wish my Turkish weren’t so rusty…. -andy

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