Prominent Turkish novelist freed from prison

#TurkeyPolitics

Turkish court frees renowned author Asli Erdogan after she was detained on 'terror' charges

Asli Erdogan, one of Turkey's most celebrated novelists, was released from jail on Thursday after 132 days of pre-trial detention (AFP)
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Last update: 
Friday 30 December 2016 11:15 UTC

Asli Erdogan, one of Turkey's most celebrated novelists, was released from jail on Thursday after 132 days of pre-trial detention and declared that she could barely believe she was free.

The writer was in prison on charges of "terror propaganda" because of her links to a pro-Kurdish newspaper, in a case that has caused an international outcry over freedom of expression.

"I do not realise it yet, I am in shock," she said, appearing drawn, tired and emotional in front of the Bakirkoy women's prison in Istanbul.

"They take you and throw you into a hole. It's very hard, it's like I'm still inside," she added, before bursting into tears.

An Istanbul court ordered that Erdogan and Necmiye Alpay, an internationally prominent linguist, be released.

In late November, an Istanbul court had ordered that Erdogan and Alpay remain in jail, disappointing supporters after earlier reports they were to be released.

The pair was taken into custody in August as part of a probe into the now-shut newspaper Ozgur Gundem, which Turkish authorities say is a mouthpiece for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

But the fate of Erdogan and Alpay, author of widely praised translations of Western novels into Turkish, who had been in custody for 120 days, is still unclear.

The case against them remains active and they could still face life imprisonment if convicted. Their next hearing is scheduled for 2 January.

Asked by reporters what she had missed most in prison, Erdogan - no relation to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the name is common in Turkey -  replied without hesitation: "The sea... dancing, ballet, classical music."

The court also ordered the release of Ozgur Gundem's editorial director Zana Kaya.

But it then emerged that a leading investigative journalist had been detained in a separate case. Ahmet Sik is also accused of "terror propaganda" and denigrating the Turkish Republic, the judicial authorities and police said, according to state-run Anadolu news agency.

He was arrested over a succession of tweets about the PKK, as well as articles for the Cumhuriyet opposition daily that criticised Turkish secret services.

'I am a writer'

Earlier on Thursday, in her defence statement to a packed court in Istanbul, Erdogan ridiculed the charges against her. "I will defend myself as if the laws existed," she said, according to the Hurriyet daily.

"I am a writer and the purpose of my existence is to tell a story."

Erdogan’s detention has been criticised by fellow writers and human rights activists, including the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye.

He met with Alpay during his visit to Turkey in November, but was denied access to Erdogan.

"Disappointed that Asli Erdogan and Necmiye Alpay not released from prison. Turkey should release them and many others," Kaye wrote on Twitter a month ago.

Erdogan, 49, and Alpay, 70, and seven other suspects - who could also face life in jail - linked to Ozgur Gundem have been charged in the case but not all are under arrest.

Erdogan has published several well-received novels, including The City in Crimson Cloak, which has also been translated into English.

"They are being prosecuted for writings and thoughts that are in no way reprehensible according to Turkish law," said Baris Yarkadas, Istanbul MP for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Activists worry about a drastically worsening climate for journalists in Turkey, in particular since the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the 15 July coup attempt to topple President Erdogan.

According to the P24 Platform for Independent Journalism, 118 journalists have been arrested during the state of emergency, 80 of them within the attempted coup probe.

'Imam's Army'

The author of several books, Sik is one of the best-known journalists in the country and had already endured a lengthy spell in jail from 2011-2012.

He was imprisoned for 375 days during an investigation into the so-called Ergenekon alleged coup plot against the government.

That case was strongly supported by Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed putsch. 

According to the P24 Platform for Independent Journalism, 118 journalists have been arrested during the state of emergency, 80 of them within the coup probe.

But the convictions were quashed and suspects released amid accusations Gulen had perverted the process.

He has won numerous awards, including the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2014. 

Sik's books include one of the few full-scale investigations into the group of Gulen, the former ally of President Erdogan and now his arch foe.

The book, called The Imam's Army, examines how Gulen supporters infiltrated the Turkish bureaucracy and built up an alliance with the ruling party that has since collapsed.

The book had not even been published when Sik was arrested in March 2011 and was eventually released in November 2011 under the title 000Kitap" ("000Book"), causing a sensation with its author still in jail