Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile +90 312 417 0476
Dear Prime Minister Erdogan:
I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom, in order to express our grave concern over the prosecution of Orhan Pamuk for allegedly “denigrating national identity” during an interview published in the Swiss magazine, Das Bild (February 6, 2005). Mr. Pamuk, a world-renowned novelist who has been a visiting scholar at a number of North American universities and a member of this association, is scheduled to appear in court on December 16, 2005 and will be tried under Article 301/3 of the Turkish Penal Law. If he is found guilty, he may face up to 8 years in prison.
The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) is comprised of 2600 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa in North America and elsewhere.
Trying Mr. Pamuk on these charges is in direct violation of his civil and human rights. As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and as a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey is required to protect freedom of expression.
Because these rights are also enshrined in the Turkish Constitution of 1982, a judge will have every reason to throw out the case on the first hearing. We urge strongly your government avoid this embarrassment and act now to dismiss the charges against Mr. Pamuk, in the interest of justice and Turkey’s reputation.
We further urge the government of Turkey to initiate the steps necessary to remove Article 301 from the country’s Penal Code. Article 301 criminalizes any “insult” to “Turkishness,” the Turkish parliament, the Turkish government, or the military and security forces. It is difficult to imagine how the government could prosecute a person under this law without violating Turkey’s obligations, under Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention and Article 19 of the ICCPR, to guarantee and to protect freedom of expression. Freedom of expression lies at the core of academic freedom. At the very least, we encourage you to instruct the Prosecutor General to drop immediately the charges against Mr. Pamuk and desist from bringing any such charges in the future under the provisions of Article 301 of the Penal Code as a way of punishing and intimidating academics, public intellectuals, and other Turkish citizens who express ideas or views of Turkish history at variance with those of the authorities.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your positive response.
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