Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Turkish official defends author's free speech rights

CLEAR STANCE The prime minister said he support's Orhan Pamuk's rights, but said that the EU shouldn't pressure the judiciary on the case


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended on Saturday author Orhan Pamuk's right to free speech, but rejected EU pressure on Ankara in the controversial trial of the internationally renowned novelist.

"My stance on freedom of thought is clear because I myself have become a victim in this context," Erdogan was quoted as saying by Anatolia news agency in the central city of Konya. "We are against anything restricting freedom of thought."

He said, however, that the EU, which sees Pamuk's trial as a test of Turkey's commitment to democracy and human rights, "is trying to put our judiciary under pressure," Anatolia reported.

"This is wrong," Erdogan said. "Either right or wrong, the case is now before the justice ... Let's see the outcome and then make comments."

Pamuk, Turkey's best-known writer and winner of many international awards, appeared before a court in Istanbul on Friday on charges of denigrating Turkish national identity for telling a Swiss magazine that "1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it."

The case was adjourned to February to await a decision by the justice ministry, whose authorization is needed to proceed with the trial.

European Parliament members attended the hearing and criticized the government for having failed to halt the trial, drawing Erdogan's anger.

"The coming of EU parliamentarians during the course of the trial is in fact pressure on the judiciary," he said. "They have no such right."

Erdogan has defended freedom of speech, citing his own conviction for "inciting religious hatred" by reciting a poem with Islamic messages during a political rally in 1997, which earned him a four-month stint in prison.

Turkey began EU membership talks on Oct. 4, but critics say the country has yet to fully embrace the bloc's democracy norms despite the far-reaching reforms it has already undertaken.

Brussels has warned Ankara the talks would be suspended in the case of persistent breaches of democracy and human rights.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul called on the EU not to judge Turkey's record by a single case.

"Let's not be unfair towards Turkey," he told the Sabah daily. "There is no conviction [in the Pamuk case] yet. There is no one in jail in Turkey because of [exercising] freedom of expression."

Gul pledged more efforts to ensure that the reforms Turkey undertook to boost its EU bid are properly implemented on the ground.

"It's our duty to strengthen the reform process," he said. "The changes adopted so far are not cosmetic, but there is still more to be done."

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