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Writer Goes on Trial in Turkey

October 5, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ A writer went on trial Thursday on charges of insulting the founder of modern Turkey in a biography about the revered late leader’s wife, amid growing calls from the European Union to change repressive laws curbing freedom of expression.

Ipek Calislar, the latest in a series of writers charged under Turkey’s freedom-curbing laws, faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison if convicted of insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Necdet Tatlican, an editor for Hurriyet newspaper, also faces charges for publishing excerpts of Calislar’s book, ``Latife Hanim.″

Tatlican and Calislar did not attend the opening hearing. The court adjourned the trial to Dec. 19, ordering police to bring Tatlican to the court and calling on Calislar to attend the trial, the private Dogan news agency said.

The hearing in Istanbul came on the final day of a visit to Ankara by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who has pressured Turkey to abolish repressive laws and to improve freedoms.

Rehn said Turkey must change Article 301 of its penal code _ which sets out punishment for insulting the Turkish Republic, its officials or ``Turkishness.″ The law has been used to press charges against dozens of authors, journalists, publishers and scholars, including internationally renowned novelists Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has said it has no immediate plans to change law, saying that in such cases, the charges are eventually dropped and defendants are acquitted. The charges against Pamuk were dropped, while Shafak was acquitted recently.

EU officials argue, however, that even if the charges are dropped, the threat of prosecution remains as a deterrent against those who want to express their opinions.

In the book, Calislar says that the Turkish leader, facing an assassination attempt, left the presidential palace in a chador, disguised as a woman.

The charges were initiated by a Hurriyet reader, Huseyin Tugrul Pekin. ``To claim that ... Ataturk, whom no one could even attempt to weigh his courage, would have done something like this ... is the greatest insult,″ he said in a letter to the prosecutor making his case for charges to be brought against the writer.

The court, meanwhile, rejected an appeal by Pekin’s lawyer to join the trial as a plaintiff, the Dogan news agency said.

Calislar’s book is the first comprehensive biography of Latife Ussaki, who was married to Ataturk for about two years until he divorced her in 1925.

The book became a best-seller within days of its publication in June and helped to dispel a long-held image of Ussaki as a reviled woman blamed for the breakup of the marriage. Instead, it portrayed her as a strong-willed advocate for women’s rights in Turkey.

Calislar has said that the passage in question was based on accounts from Latife’s sister, Vecihe Ilmen, and other sources.

``The assassination attempt ... is a historic fact,″ Calislar said in an earlier statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. Escaping in women’s clothing ``was a decision Ataturk made at a critical time and was successful,″ she said.

``Historians may discuss the issue, but I don’t think that the issue is of any concern to lawyers.″


Associated Press writer Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara contributed to this report.

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