Turkey upholds novelist travel ban amid free speech crackdown

March 14, 2017 10:30 pm

Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan speaks to the media after her release from Silivri prison outside Istanbul, , December 29, 2016. (Photo by AP)

A Turkish court has maintained a contentious foreign travel ban on prominent novelist Asli Erdogan in a case widely seen as an infringement of her right to freedom of expression.
Erdogan was arrested last August along with 20 other journalists and employees from the now-closed pro-Kurdish opposition daily Ozgur Gundem, on charges of “making terrorist propaganda.” Ankara shut down the newspaper over alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 
Erdogan was released in December 2016 pending trial.
On Tuesday, the Istanbul court ruled to keep the travel ban in place against Erdogan despite her calls to be allowed out of the country temporarily.
She expressed deep disappointment at the ruling and said, “I am asking for the removal of the overseas travel ban temporarily, so that I can participate in award ceremonies abroad.”
Erdal Dogan, the lawyer representing Erdogan, also told the court that her client’s participation in some ceremonies abroad could help alleviate Turkey’s recent tensions with several European countries, adding, “Writers and journalists are peace envoys.”
Erdogan’s next hearing is due on June 22. If convicted, she could face life imprisonment.
She has published several well-received novels, including “The City in Crimson Cloak,” which has been translated into English.

Turkish anti-riot police officers block streets leading towards the headquarters of opposition daily Ozgur Gundem in Istanbul on August 16, 2016, after a Turkish court ordered the temporary closure of the newspaper. (Photo by AFP)

The author’s pre-trial detention sparked an international outcry, with prominent lawyers and human rights activists saying her arrest breached both Turkey’s constitution and the European convention on human rights.
Last December, Postsecondary Education Network International (PEN-International), a worldwide association of writers, said that Erdogan was being held solely for peacefully exercising her right to free speech.
The writer’s arrest came as part of a crackdown launched by the Turkish government on the media and opposition groups, who were believed to have played a role in the abortive military coup on July 15, 2016. The failed coup was blamed on the movement led by US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen.
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