Turkish Court Set to Jail Professor for Allegedly “Insulting the Memory of Ataturk”
IPN Press release
Mark Baillie, +44 20 3393 8410
SİNCE 2005, Turkish courts have been sentencing people for “denigrating Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Now – as part of Turkey’s move to join the EU – that law is set to be altered slightly. However, there is no plan to alter the equally repressive Law 5816, under which it is illegal publicly to “insult the memory of Kemal Ataturk,” the founder of the Turkish Republic.
This is the law being used to prosecute Atilla Yayla, Professor of Political Philosophy at Gazi University in Ankara. In a debate in November 2006, Yayla questioned the Kemalist ideology, saying the basic foundations of civilization include private property rights, accountable government and freedom of expression. He called for Turkey to re-evaluate its past by these standards, asking whether its first republican period of 1925-1945 was as progressive as official propaganda claims.
Following these comments, a media campaign declared Yayla a traitor, he was suspended by Gazi University for three months, and proceedings were brought by the Public Prosecutor in Izmir to establish whether he had breached Law 5816.
Initial hearings in his case were inconclusive and a counter-campaign was launched by journalists supporting free speech. Yayla believed that the storm would blow over and in the interim took a sabbatical position at the University of Buckingham, where he is teaching a course on Islam and liberty.
However, at the fourth hearing on 10th December, the Public Prosecutor demanded that Yayla be jailed for up to five years and the judge announced that a further hearing will take place on 28th January. Yayla thinks that he might be sent to jail for political reasons.
“I now believe they intend to use my case to further restrict freedoms in the country” Yayla said, adding: “if I am convicted, this would be a great blow to freedom of expression in Turkey.”
Turkey has been told by the EU that it must reform its laws on free speech prior to accession. If Yayla is jailed it will be a poke in the eye to reformers. The appropriate response would be for the government to act swiftly and decisively to repeal this repressive, anachronistic law – preferably before the hearing takes place.
NOTE: NEXT HEARİNG 28 JANUARY, IZMİR
The fifth session of Yayla’s trial will take place in Izmir city 8th Court of First Criminal Instance (Sekizinci Asliye Ceza Mahkemesi) on 28 January. (The first session was on 30 April 2007. The file number of the case is 2007/107.)