Turkish intellectuals in solidarity campaign for persecuted writer

The New York Times notes Oct. 6 that charges were dropped against Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, whose fictional character committed the crime of refering to the “Armenian genocide.” But almost simultaneously, charges were brought against another writer, Hrant Dink, who dared to uphold historical truth. This Sept. 29 report from Turkey’s BIA news agency indicates growing dissent among Turkish intellectuals:

A number of leading Turkish intellectuals have launched a new civil disobedience action declaring themselves accomplices of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink whose most recent prosecution in a series launched by Turkish courts is based on opinions he expressed in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

The action comes in the wake of an Amnesty International (AI) statement on Dink that said the human rights watchdog organization was dismayed at recent reports that yet another case had been opened against Dink on charges of “denigrating Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The AI warned that if Dink was arrested on any of the charges leveled against him, he would be declared a “Prisoner of Conscience” on the international arena.

The latest charge against Dink was brought up following a statement he made to Reuters on July 14 in which he mentioned the massacre of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire. “Of course I’m saying it’s a genocide” he said in the report. “Because its consequences show it to be true and label it so. We see that people who had lived on this soil for 4000 years were exterminated by these events.”

Civil disobedience underway

Those launching this week’s campaign in support of Dink from Turkey have issued a public statement where they accept participating in his offense subject to a new prosecution and request to be tried in the same case.

Those who launched the statement were musician Sanar Yurdatapan, spokesman of the Initiative Against the Crime of Thought, lecturer Prof. Dr. Taner Akcam, teacher Erdal Yildirim, student Gulnur Elcik and editor-author Nihat Ates.

But the statement is open for new signatories and expected to attract dozens or hundreds other, under the statement “I participate in Dink’s remarks, I undersign them. I want to be a defendant in this case.”

The statement itself can be found at www.antenna-tr.org and those willing to sign it are asked to email info@antenna-tr.org/

Background of the case

In reality issue to the case are not Dink’s remarks reflected to the Reuters report but a 21 July 2006 news article in the weekly Armenian-Tukish Agos magazine that he runs. Subject to the original investigation was that news item and the remarks it contained.

A nationalist group of lawyers known for filing complaints against Turkish intellectuals and writers, a group also held responsible for interrupting many court proceedings with physical violence and dub themselves now as the “Union of Grand Jurists,” brought up the first criminal complaint against Dink on these remarks.

As result, under article 301 of the Penal Code, a case was launched by the Istanbul Sisli Prosecutor’s Office where both Dink and Serkis Seropyan, as executives of the newspapers, were put on trial.

Amnesty concerned

The recent civil disobedience action follows of a strongly worded statement by Amnesty International on the Hrant Dink case which was issued from London this week.

AI said it considers that this new prosecution was “part of an emerging pattern of harassment against the journalist exercising his right to freedom of expression,” noting that this is a right which Turkey, as a State Party to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has a legal obligation to uphold.

AI’s statement said that the rights monitoring group was “particularly concerned at this latest prosecution, the third against Hrant Dink on charges under Article 301, because it seems to constitute a pattern of judicial harassment against the writer for peacefully expressing his dissenting opinion.

“Furthermore, he has already been given a six-month suspended prison sentence following an October 2005 conviction on charges of ‘denigrating Turkishness’ (upheld by the Court of Appeal in July 2006), and therefore if found guilty again on the same charge would be imprisoned. Should he be, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience,” it explained.

The Amnesty International statement also said that it considers this latest prosecution to be “particularly disappointing following the welcome acquittal four days ago of another writer, novelist Elif Safak, on charges under Article 301 relating to statements made by characters in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul.

“The organization had seen this as a positive step for freedom of expression in Turkey but fears this acquittal may prove to be the exception rather than the rule and demonstrates yet again the failure of certain members of the Turkish judiciary and prosecution to internalize international law, as required by Article 90 of the Turkish constitution. The organization reiterates its call for Article 301 to be abolished in its entirety, thereby putting an end to arbitrary implementation of this ill-defined law.”

The statement continued:

“Finally, Amnesty International notes that this prosecution reportedly arises from a complaint lodged by elements of civil society opposed to the abolition of Article 301, who have lodged similar complaints in the past seeking to secure such prosecutions and who have repeatedly staged provocative and sometimes violent protests at trials, creating a threatening atmosphere in the courtroom. The organization calls on the Turkish authorities to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to ensure the protection both of the defendants, their lawyers and supporters in such cases, and of the course of justice itself.”

See our last post on free speech struggles in Turkey.