Turkey: Novelist Pamuk's trial draws international concern

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Turkey's internationally acclaimed novelist Orhan Pamuk will be on trial in Istanbul on 16 December for insulting the Turkish state. He is charged under Article 301 of the country's recently revised penal code, with his other alleged crimes include insulting the government, the army and the memory of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. According to Article 301, "a person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the republic or Turkish National Assembly" shall be imprisoned for six months to three years. Article 301 was introduced with the legislative reforms on 1 June 2005.

The trial will focus on remarks made by Pamuk in the Swiss newspaper Das Bild in February 2005. In that interview he said that "thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in Turkey" during World War One and again in the 1980s and 1990s. He also said that "almost no one dares to speak out on this but me".

In recent decades, Turkey has made significant progress in protecting the freedom of expression, but many restrictions are understood to remain. In recent months, trials similar to that of Pamuk have been held against some 60 other writers.

In 2004, Turkey amended its constitution in order to render international human rights treaties applicable in domestic law. While the EU has been generally content with the amendments, it continues to urge Ankara to modify or scrap Article 301 which it believes curbs the freedom of expression.

In the broader context of accession, Turkey is expected by the EU to meet the so-called Copenhagen criteria. In this respect, the EU continues to see "significant shortcomings" in the area of fundamental freedoms and human rights, "particularly on freedom of expression, women’s rights, religious freedoms, trade union rights, cultural rights and the zero tolerance policy against torture and ill-treatment".

The issue of the Armenian massacres is highly sensitive in Turkey. While Ankara denies claims that the Ottoman forces committed genocide against Armenians, it has recently called for historians to debate the issue.

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