New York, NY, December 16, 2005—PEN, the world association of writers, decried the suspension of trial proceedings against Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, insisting the charges against him should have been dismissed outright and calling the delay another way to prolong pressure on Pamuk and dozens of other writers and publishers currently being prosecuted in Turkey. Pamuk appeared in court today in Istanbul on charges of “publicly denigrating Turkish identity.” The trial was suspended shortly after it convened; proceedings were postponed to February 7, 2006 after the Ministry of Justice said that it needed more time to study the trial dossier.

“Orhan Pamuk should never have been forced into a courtroom, and must not now be made to wait upon the Turkish government’s pleasure,” PEN American Center President Salman Rushdie said today in London. “It is not his words, but the case against him, that badly damages Turkey’s good name, and the charges he faces should be dismissed as soon as possible. Nor can the other writers awaiting trial as a result of the problems for free expression embedded in the Turkish Penal Code, be forgotten.”

In Vienna, International PEN President Jiøí Gruša warned of the impact of both the trial and the postponement. “It is unbelievable that Orhan Pamuk, one of Turkey’s best known and eminent authors, is in this situation,” said Gruša.  “What it indicates is a complete disregard for the right to freedom of expression not only for Pamuk, but also for the Turkish populace as a whole. This decision bodes ill for other writers who are being tried under similar laws.”

Orhan Pamuk is one of at least 14 writers, publishers and journalists accused under an amended version of an “insult” law that criminalizes criticism of the Turkish state and its officials. They are being prosecuted for writings and comments on sensitive issues including human rights abuses by the Turkish army and the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman army in the early 1900s. Turkey’s penal code was revised earlier this year in an effort to satisfy European Union concerns over weak human rights and free expression protections, but the surge in prosecutions under Section 301 in the new code shows that those who challenge longstanding taboos are still vulnerable. In all, around 50 writers, publishers, and journalists have been before Turkish courts this year under various Penal Code provisions for their writings on sensitive issues.

Postponements like the one today in Pamuk’s trial are a common tactic in these cases. Hearings often drag on over many months and sometimes years. If the writers lose, they face prison. If they win, it is only after considerable cost and the kind of harassment that is meant to discourage others from publishing similar work.

“PEN demands that the charges against all writers, publishers and journalists be dismissed and that the laws under which they are being tried be removed from the Penal Code,” Gruša reiterated.  “We also call on the Turkish authorities to put a definitive end to the penalization of those who exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

More Information:

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105