By Nadire Mater
Istanbul, September 21, 1999---A local prosecutor in Beyoglu, Istanbul has finally indicted me under Article 159 of the penal code ( "insulting and belittling the military") for having published the statements of former army soldiers who I interviewed for my book Mehmedin Kitabi("Mehmed's Book---Soldiers Who Have Fought in the Southeast Speak Out"). The book was banned on June 23 by order of an Istanbul court.
If convicted, I could be sent to jail for one to six years. My publisher, Semih Sokmen, was also indicted and faces a possible fine.
The ban and my indictment are ironic in that I am accused of insulting the Turkish military for having faithfully reproduced the words of Turkish soldiers.
Mehmedin Kitabicomprises interviews with 42 retired Turkish soldiers and two relatives of soldiers who had fought in southeast Turkey. The book was first printed in April 1999 by Metis Publishers in Istanbul, and has been through three additional printings since then. It was warmly welcomed by critics of all political stripes, both overseas and in Turkey.
Nonetheless, the authorities are putting me on trial. The indictment is based on quotations that the prosecutor has selected out of context in order to support his charges. The first hearing will take place on September 29 in Istanbul's Beyoglu Court Hall.
After the court decision authorizing the seizure of my book, I immediately petitioned the Ministry of Justice to withdraw the charges. The ministry of Justice responded to my plea by stating that "Turkish justice is independent of the executive, and no authority is entitled to order the judges ..."
Yet the indictment clearly states that the prosecution was initiated at the demand of Deputy Chief of Staff General Hilmi Ozkok. Moreover, it lists the army chief of staff as the prosecution's "informant."
Apart from this apparent intervention by the executive branch, the timing of the indictment is also ironic in that it comes shortly after the Turkish government's announcement of a special amnesty for jailed journalists and writers. This, the government believes, is a sign of the ruling coalition's attachment to freedom of expression.
My case and scores of other cases are stark evidence of this amnesty's cosmetic nature and limited scope. The amnesty does not annul past "offenses" but only suspends them for the next three years. Moreover, it will not be valid for "offenses" committed later than April 23, 1999. Finally, the amnesty has not been accompanied by any change in the many laws that are used to criminalize the profession of journalism in Turkey.
Under the amnesty I will not be prosecuted for the first printing in April. But I am still threatened with prison sentences for the next three printings, which all came after April 23. But even if the amnesty also applied to later editions, the banning of my book would still stand. I am therefore delighted that I still have a chance to defend myself and that the book may re-circulate if I am acquitted.
The ruling coalition claims to have broadened freedom of expression and thought in Turkey. But this indictment is fresh evidence that in the absence of substantive change in Turkish law, grave threats against basic freedoms of thought, expression, and information still prevail.
I will be presenting my first court defense on September 29. I ask for the support and solidarity of human rights activists, writers, journalists, and intellectuals in Turkey and overseas. If we all cooperate, I am confident that we can overcome restrictions and limitations on freedom of expression in Turkey and throughout the world.
Nadire Mater Tel: +90 212 518 8376-77 Fax: 518 8375 e-mail:[email protected] mobile: +90 532 231 3836