2nd Apr 2020

Turkey will be on trial in Pamuk case, Rehn says

  • The Pamuk trial is highlighting Turkish commitment to freedom of speech (Photo: European Commission)

The controversial trial of award-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, accused of "public denigration of Turkishness", will put Turkish commitments to liberty of expression under the microscope.

A Turkish public prosecutor brought criminal charges against Mr Pamuk after an interview in Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger in February, in which the author said "30,000 Kurds and one million Ottoman Armenians were killed in Turkey and no-one dares talk about it."

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Intellectuals, human rights organisations and Brussels officials have strongly protested against the Pamuk trial, scheduled to begin on Friday (16 December).

Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn raised a warning finger at Ankara on Thursday, questioning whether Turkey, as an EU candidate state, is truly committed to the basic democratic principle of free speech.

"It is not Orhan Pamuk who will stand trial tomorrow, but Turkey", he said.

"This is a litmus test whether Turkey is seriously committed to the freedom of expression and reforms that enhance the rule of law and benefit all Turkish citizens."

Mr Rehn reiterated his stance that the political criteria- such as freedom of speech- for Turkish EU entry are "non-negotiable".

60 free speech cases pending

Article 301 of the Turkish penal code forbids Turkish citizens from denigrating the Turkish identity, the Republic, the Grand National Assembly, the government, the judicial branches or the military.

Earlier this week, human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a public statement expressing "extreme concern" at the frequent referral by Turkish authorities to Article 301, to prosecute human rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society peacefully expressing dissenting opinions.

According to an Amnesty report, there are over 60 pending cases of journalists, writers and other intellectuals who have spoken against the inviolable institutions mentioned in Article 301.

A cross-political delegation of MEPs, headed by Dutch conservative Camiel Eurlings, on Thursday travelled to Istanbul to observe the trial alongside international human rights campaigners.

The expeditions aims are to verify whether the implementation of Turkey's new penal code meets EU fundamental rights standards.

Mr Eurlings said the group of five MEPs does not have the intention of interfering with Turkish justice, but added that court cases against writers contravene the European Human Rights Convention.

Brussels urges penal code revision

The European Commission has urged Ankara to revise Article 301, saying it does not safeguard freedom of expression in its current form.

In the run-up to the opening of accession talks with the EU on 3 October, Brussels had already forced Ankara to change the article as part of a new penal code, but the new version still enabled the Istanbul prosecutor to charge Mr Pamuk, prompting Mr Rehn's call for further revision.

Commissioner Rehn indicated "The commission expects that the Turkish government will make it clear to the country's prosecutors and judges that Article 301 of the new penal code should be interpreted fully in line with the European Convention of Human Rights".

"Considering the number of recent prosecutions, it appears that the new Penal Code does not provide sufficient protection for the freedom of expression", he added.

Last-minute possibility of acquittal

Friday's trial could, however, still be postponed or Mr Pamuk acquitted, after the Turkish court earlier this week announced that it will not proceed without an injunction from the ministry of justice.

The court wishes to prosecute Mr Pamuk according to the old version of the Turkish penal code, according to which permission from the justice minister is needed, arguing that Mr Pamuk's famous remark was made before the new penal code was enforced in June.

The Turkish justice minister, Cemil Cicek, said on Tuesday that he would examine "into the smallest details" every request from the court before taking a final decision on what to do with the case, which has raised uncomfortable international criticism for the government in Ankara.

Late on Thursday afternoon (15 December), the Turkish ministry of justice had not yet made its decision public.

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