Free speech victory in Turkey

From Turkey’s Zaman, Nov. 2:

A 92-year-old retired Turkish archaeologist has been acquitted in a rights trial in which she was accused of “inciting hatred by insulting people based on their religion.”

Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, an expert on the ancient Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia, claimed in one of her books that the headscarf worn by Muslim women was first used by women in ancient Sumerian era, around 3,000 B.C., for pre-Islamic sexual rites.

Cig was the latest person to go on trial in Turkey for expressing her views, despite the escalating European Union pressure on Turkey, an EU-hopeful country, regarding the freedom of expression.

The 92-year old historian appeared before an Istanbul court on Wednesday. The court ruled that her remarks did not constitute a crime and acquitted her in the trial that lasted about half an hour.

In her book entitled “My Reactions as a Citizen,” Cig had claimed that headscarves were worn by women who worked as prostitutes in temples during the Sumerian period to differentiate them from women who worked primarily as priestesses.

Dozens of writers, journalists and academics have been prosecuted in Turkey based on the notorious Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code, including this year’s Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and renowned Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, who were later acquitted. Unlike Pamuk and Shafak, Cig was tried under Articles 216 and 218 of the Turkish Penal code and up to 18 months of prison were sought for her on charges of inciting people based on their religion.

See our last post on free speech struggles in Turkey.