Law suits surrounding more than 100 books were filed in Turkey between 2008 and 2011, while around 30 writers and translators went to court during the first half of this year, according to reports published by the Turkish Publishers Association.
Comic magazines and websites have also been sued in court, some for “hurting people’s moral feelings,” and others in connection with anti-terror laws.
“I cannot believe what I am going through, but I am determined to keep treading on this path insistently. Fancy a mindset, such that it brought even the Appolinare, a milestone of world literature, before the court,” İrfan Sancı, owner of Sel Publishing House, told Hürriyet Daily News in a phone interview.
A lawsuit was filed against Sancı when his publishing house began issuing copies of “The Exploits of a Young Don Juan” by the 20th century French literary figure Appolinare. Sancı, however, continued publishing books under the title “the Erotic Series,” which only intensified the legal pressure on him, as he was forced to face one trial after another.
“I sat before court in the morning and received an award in the evening. I was punished by my country and I was granted an award from abroad. That is a great irony,” said Sancı, who received the Freedom to Publish Prize Special Award from the Geneva-based International Publishing Association, or IPA, last November.
“I could not believe my ears when the prosecutor asked me whether I read these books with my family; I could not muster up any response,” he added.
Regarding the freedom of thought and expression, the year 2011 has turned out to be even grimmer than 1980 when the military delivered Turkey’s infamous coup d’état, according to Metin Celal, the president of the Turkish Publishers Association.
“Writers and translators are being sued, journalists are being jailed, statues are being demolished... As if all this was not enough, world-renowned director Emir Kusturica was invited to the Antalya Film Festival as a member of the jury, [only to be] protested against. Our Nobel laureate author Orhan Pamuk was almost sentenced to paying indemnities to each Turkish citizen [just] because he expressed his thoughts. Another Nobel laureate writer, Naipul, was invited to an organization in Istanbul and made into a pariah on the grounds that he insulted Islam,” Celal told Hürriyet Daily News in a phone interview.
“Each year we hope we do not [have to] grant this award, but unfortunately we cannot make any progress regarding the freedom of thought and expression,” said Celal, in reference to the Freedom of Thought and Expression awards annually granted by the Turkish Publishers Association.
“We are still far from the democracy we need. Turkey is not secular enough and it is getting worse. I need a term such as ‘debrainization’ to name the antidemocratic operations in our history,” Tarık Günersel, president of the Turkey branch for the PEN World Association of Writers, told Hürriyet Daily News by e-mail.
“As a society, to what extent are we adults? Only when we legally punish the generals who unlawfully abolished the parliament and when we make a democratic constitution, only then we can have the right to consider ourselves [as] adults. I think we are not even citizens yet,” Günersel said.
Even fictional novels are being put on trial despite all the talk about democracy, Mehmet Güler, a Kurdish writer, told Hürriyet Daily News by e-mail.
Güler was accused of making terrorist propaganda because of the fictional characters in his book “Decisions Tougher Than Death” (Ölümden Zor Kararlar), which was published last year by the International Belge Publishing House, only to be banned and confiscated soon after.
The book tells the stories of clashes between the right and left in Turkey during the 1970s, Kurdish youth who head for the mountains to join the ranks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, and the prison torture experiences of characters Siti, Sadri and Hayri. The novel also features the autobiographical traces of Güler’s Kurdish origins and his arrest in 1990 while still a student at Ankara University for having contact with illegal organizations.