Turkey's best-known novelist stands trial

Turkey's best-known novelist, Orhan Pamuk, stood trial on Friday on charges of insulting the country's national identity, a case that has led to widespread criticism from the European Union and called into question the country's commitment to European standards of free speech. Pamuk, wearing a dark suit, entered the courthouse as about a dozen nationalists booed and shouted "traitor" at him. A six-member delegation from the European Parliament and a British member of parliament entered the courtroom to monitor the trial, sparking a brief scuffle with nationalist lawyers who back the prosecution of Pamuk.

Denis MacShane, Britain's former minister for Europe and a member of the British parliament, said he was punched by a nationalist as he entered the courtroom, adding that he intends to file a complaint. "You have no right to interfere in the Turkish justice system," one lawyer shouted at the European delegation. Human rights groups have harshly criticized Turkey for trying to prosecute a leading novelist, and the EU official in charge of enlargement, Olli Rehn, said Thursday that "it is not Orhan Pamuk who will stand trial ... but Turkey."

Turkish commentators have said the trial could damage the country's bid to become the first Muslim member of the European Union. Pamuk, often mentioned as a Nobel Prize candidate, is being tried for telling a Swiss newspaper in February that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it."

Prosecutors have deemed the remark an insult to Turkey, and have charged him under article 301 of the country's new penal code, which sets penalties for insulting the Turkish Republic and "Turkishness." "The accusation of insulting the state is something you associate with dictatorial regimes, not with a modern European state. This has come as a real blow to Turkey's supporters in the European Union," MacShane said.

"You can't put one of the world's best living novelists on trial and say this is just growing pains," MacShane added.

Pamuk's lawyers are expected to argue that the author cannot be tried under the law for insulting Turkishness, which came into force in June, because Pamuk's comments predate the law by several months. To many, the case has become a critical test of whether Turkey is prepared to allow open debate on sensitive issues like the massacre of Armenians at the time of World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide.

"What stained a country's 'honor' was not the discussion of the black spots in its history but the impossibility of any discussion at all," Pamuk wrote in an essay to The New Yorker magazine to be published in its Dec. 19 issue. The letter was posted on the magazine's Web site. Pamuk, whose books have been translated into more than 20 languages, wrote that he remained optimistic that he would not be imprisoned. "I believe that the case against me is thin; I do not think I will end up in jail," he wrote.

Turkey has for years come under severe criticism for jailing journalists, authors and activists for speaking their minds. Although the country has carried out reforms to expand freedom of expression as part of its EU-membership drive, loopholes still allow prosecutors and judges to interpret laws in a manner that restricts freedom of speech, reports the AP. I.L.

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