The apparent result of a legal game of "hot potato," the trial of the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk -- accused of "insulting Turkishness" -- has been abandoned. Nobody, apparently, wanted to be left holding the responsibility for prosecuting Turkey's most celebrated author.
On Friday, Minister of Justice Cemil Cicek announced his refusal to deal with the case, claiming a new legal code removed the case from his jurisdiction. Soon thereafter, the local court interpreted Cicek's actions as a refusal to grant permission for the case to go ahead and likewise washed its hands of the affair. On Monday, Pamuk's lawyer, Haluk Inanici, said the court had dropped the case.
The move comes at a sensitive time for Turkey in its bid to join the European Union. This week the EU is to commence its review of the Turkish justice system as part of the country's application for membership. The case was seen as a test of Turkey's commitment to freedom of speech. And the decision to drop it has been welcomed in Europe on Monday. Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner in charge of expansion, called it "good news for freedom of expression in Turkey." He was, however, quick to point out that a number of similar cases are pending in Turkey.
Pamuk, the author of "Snow" and "My Name is Red", was charged with the criminal offense following an interview he gave the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger in February 2005. In the interview he said that 30,000 people had died in the conflict between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish nationalists, and that 1 million Armenians had died in Turkey during World War I, and "nobody but me dares to talk about it."
Official Turkish policy is to deny that there was any
genocidal campaign against the Armenians, claiming that they died along with many ethnic Turks during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Pamuk's comments provoked outrage amongst right-wing nationalists in Turkey. The writer was then charged under Article 301, which makes it illegal to insult the republic, parliament or any organs of state. The prosecution has raised the hackles of those in Europe already suspicious of Turkey's democratic credentials.
On the first day of his trial on Dec. 16, Pamuk was greeted by jeering nationalists, who pelted his car with eggs and shouted "traitor." The judge immediately adjourned the case until Feb. 7 after ruling that it was up to the justice ministry to decide whether it should proceed. He also dropped the other charge of insulting the Turkish armed forces. Pamuk's lawyers had insisted the writer be tried under Turkey's old penal code, as the alleged offense took place before the code had been revised in June 2005, under pressure from the European Union. Under the old code the case would have been automatically referred to the justice ministry.
Last Friday, the Minister for Justice Cemil Cicek announced that he was not going to deal with the case as he had no say in the matter under the new code.
Had he been charged and found guilty, Pamuk could have faced up to three years in prison or a hefty fine. The case against him is part of a wave of prosecutions instigated by right-wing Turkish nationalists -- 60 writers and publishers currently face prosecution under the same law.