A Victory for Free Speech

Article excerpt


The acquittal of writer Elif Shafak on Thursday marked a major victory for free-speech proponents in Turkey. Mrs. Shafak, who was brought to trial on charges of iinsulting Turkishnessi via a fictional character in her most recent novel, iThe Bastard of Istanbul,i gave birth to a baby girl last Saturday and was therefore unable to attend the trial or celebrate the outcome of the hour-and-a-half-long session during which a panel of judges concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict her of any crime.

According to the Turkish Zaman Daily Newspaper, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan iwelcomed the acquittali and even isignaled an amendment on the much debated Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code,i which prohibits negative discussion of Turkey and is the same article under which Mrs. Shafak was charged. Mr. Erdogan noted that it would require an agreement by all parties, but it is a hopeful message nonetheless.

Turkey"s accession into the European Union is hinged on many factors, but lately the country has been feeling added pressure from Brussels to amend Article 301 and prove its dedication to improving human rights for its citizens. The European Union has suggested that freedom-of-speech cases stand only to further solidify concerns about the country"s inability to fall in line with EU legal standards. Whether the case was thrown out because of a genuine commitment to protect free speech in Turkey or an attempt to appear to be doing so to mollify EU decision-makers is debatable: Regardless, it was the right move. …