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06 09 21- Turkish Court Acquits Novelist Shafak

The Associated Press-Thursday, September 21, 2006; 10:29 (AM From Annette M. USA)

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- One of Turkey's leading authors was acquitted Thursday of "insulting Turkishness" in a novel that touched on the mass killings of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

The panel of judges said there was no evidence to support the charge against Elif Shafak, a University of Arizona assistant professor who gave birth to a daughter Saturday and did not attend her trial.

Shafak expressed satisfaction with the verdict and called for greater freedoms and tolerance.

"You would counter writing with writing, not with a gun," Shafak told private NTV television about protests and scuffles that took place outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. "Insulting Turkishness? According to whom? Who determines it?"

Shafak said the law on insulting Turkishness "has been used as a weapon to silence many people. ... My case is perhaps just another step in this long chain."

Shafak's publisher said her acquittal was a relief and that there should be more tolerance in Turkey.

"We want a country where people are not interrogated because of their novels," said Muge Sokmen, Shafak's publisher. "As the public, we need to be more tolerant to the thoughts of others."

Shafak was charged over the words uttered by fictional Armenian characters in her novel "The Bastard of Istanbul." In the book, an Armenian character refers to "Turkish butchers."

Turkey's mass expulsion of Armenians during World War I _ which Armenians say was part of a genocide that claimed 1.5 million lives _ is a dark chapter rarely discussed in Turkey or taught in its schools.

The court, which opened Shafak's trial earlier Thursday, concluded in a 1 1/2-hour session that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that she committed a crime. If convicted, she could have faced three years in prison.

The European Union has warned Turkey that putting writers and journalists on trial for their speech could hamper its efforts to join the bloc.

Riot police contained angry nationalist protesters who briefly scuffled with another group outside the court room after the ruling. A small group of nationalist lawyers outside the courthouse burned a picture of Shafak in protest.

Some protesters were holding an EU flag adorned with a Nazi swastika in the middle and a slogan that read: "EU fascism." The protesters were also holding several Turkish flags.

Shafak is on a one-year leave from her teaching post in the University of Arizona's Department of Near Eastern Studies. Her book was released in Turkey on March 8 and has sold more than 50,000 copies.

A Turkish court dropped charges last year against Orhan Pamuk, one of the country's most famous novelists, who faced trial on charges of insulting Turkishness for commenting on the killings of Armenians. The charges were dropped for technical reasons amid intense international pressure.

A high court recently confirmed a six-month prison sentence imposed on Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink for attempting to influence the judiciary after his newspaper ran articles criticizing the law that makes it a crime to insult Turkishness. Dink's sentence was suspended.

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


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