Wednesday, July 26, 2006

When the pen is threatened by the sword - Trevor Royle on Turkey's persecution of its writers

Writers make handy scapegoats when despotic regimes decide to defend the indefensible and in so doing make themselves look utterly ridiculous. Being independent and working largely in isolation, authors are soft targets and despite the excellent work undertaken by organisations such as International Pen and Sara Whyatt's Writers in Prison Committee, far too many of their kind are being banged up all over the world for the crime of daring to speak their mind.

The latest victim is the Turkish writer Perihan Magden who will appear this week before a court in Sultanhamet, Istanbul on charges that she turned people against military service. For the crime of insisting that conscientious objection to military service is a human right all Turkish men are subjected to 15 months compulsory service in the armed forces she faces three years imprisonment in conditions which will be pretty grim. As the movie Midnight Express showed all too vividly, Turkish jails are not for the squeamish.

Best known for her novels 2 Girls and The Messenger Boy Murders, Magden is no stranger to controversy and has been praised by the leading Turkish author Orhan Pamuk for her combative independence and steely conscience. Pamuk knows what he is talking about earlier this year he, too, faced prosecution, in his case for allegedly insulting Turkishness. He only escaped on a technicality


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