Noted author on trial in Turkey


By Jennifer Thompson

Turkey's most famous author, Yashar Kemal, went to trial in a State Security Court on May 5, charged with "disseminating separatism" under Article 8 of Turkey's Anti-Terror Law. The basis for this charge was the views Kemal expressed in an article in the January 10 issue of a German magazine, Der Spiegel. If found guilty, Kemal faces a prison sentence of two to five years and a fine of 50-100 million lira (US$1250-$2500).

Kemal, of Kurdish origin, appeared before an Istanbul court in January to be charged. A spirited Turkish and international campaign has been mounted in his defence. His Der Spiegel article, "Campaign of Lies", described the Turkish state's war of "incredible massacres and torture" against Kurds.

Comparing the Turkish military effort to the US war in Vietnam, it describes massacres and the burning of forests, along with 2000 Kurdish villages, by the Turkish military and contra-guerilla squads.

Turkey's tough anti-separatism laws have led to dozens of controversial convictions over the past two years, including the jailing of eight Kurdish parliamentary deputies in late 1994. "Yashar Kemal told Der Spiegel democracy is limited here", Turkey's best-selling author Orhan Pamuk commented. "The state is proving this ... I support wholly what Kemal wrote."

About 150 academics, journalists, writers, human rights activists and lawyers currently are imprisoned for "crimes of expression" according to the Ankara-based Human Rights Association. Many, like Kemal, were prosecuted under Article 8 which prohibits any "written or spoken propaganda" that threatens the "indivisible integrity of the state". Nearly 8000 others are either appealing jail sentences or awaiting trial for alleged violations of Article 8.

More than 15,000 Kurds have died in a decade-long struggle between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the military, but the government and military still maintain the conflict has no social or cultural roots. Ankara has recently turned down another offer by the PKK to lay down arms and start a dialogue for a peaceful solution to the crisis within the framework of Turkish sovereignty.

Kurdish-language education and TV are still banned under the rationale that they would weaken national unity, and 10 predominantly Kurdish south-eastern provinces are under oppressive emergency law. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller has been promising democratic reforms since she took office in 1993. A much-heralded "democratisation package" discussed last year never reached parliament, and a New Year's pledge to reform the constitution has not materialised.

After Kemal's spirited defence of his views in court on May 5, his case was adjourned to July.

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