New York, NY, September 21, 2006—Author Elif Shafak was acquitted of charges of “insult” at a hearing held today in the Beyoglu Court of First Instance in Istanbul, bringing to a close one of the most prominent cases in a surge of legal proceedings against literary figures in Turkey. Shafak was standing trial for “insulting Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for comments made by fictional characters in her best-selling novel Baba ve Pic (The Bastard of Istanbul). PEN welcomed the verdict, calling the charges a clear violation of the author’s right to freedom of expression, and renewed its appeals to Turkish authorities to end prosecutions of writers and publishers and amend insult laws to prevent such prosecutions in the future.

In an exclusive interview for PEN, recorded Tuesday in an Istanbul hospital room where she was recovering after the birth of her daughter on Saturday, Shafak described how Article 301 and other penal code provisions are “used as a weapon to silence people—journalists, intellectuals, publishers, and editors” by a reactionary faction in Turkey whose goal is to “curb the domain of art and literature.”

At least 18 other writers and publishers are standing trial under “insult provisions” in the Turkish penal code. For example, on October 5, Ipek Çalislar, the author of Latife Hanim (Lady Latife), will go on trial for a biography of the first wife of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. She could be sentenced to up to four and a half years for “insult to the memory of Atatürk” under Law 5816.

Norwegian novelist Eugene Schoulgin, a member of the board of International PEN and one of several PEN representatives who were present at today’s trial, hailed Shafak’s acquittal but noted that the number of cases filed against writers in Turkey represents a troubling trend. “Whatever the outcome is in the trial against Shafak, it is a great concern for PEN that cases such as this continue to be opened in Turkey, contradicting the Turkish government’s stated aspiration toward an open society and true democracy,” Schoulgin said.

In New York, PEN American Center Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems expressed relief at the verdict. “We are thrilled for Elif Shafak and glad that this attempt to extend censorship even to the utterances of fictional characters has been turned back,” said Siems. “We strongly urge the Turkish government to use this opportunity to review its laws and eradicate insult provisions that are still used to limit debate and silence discussion of important issues in Turkey.”

International PEN is the world association of writers representing members in over 100 countries. PEN campaigns for the right to freedom of expression worldwide and is currently monitoring around 900 cases of attacks against writers, journalists, and publishers in countries around the globe.

>> Watch the interview with Shafak

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org