Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk charged again with ‘insulting Turkishness’

Case based on his new novel Nights of the Plague, initially dismissed in April, has been reopened after an appeal

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is being investigated by the Turkish state for “insulting” the founder of modern Turkey and ridiculing the Turkish flag in his new novel Nights of Plague.

Pamuk, who denies the accusations, published the book in Turkey in March. The first complaint against the book – set on a fictional Ottoman island during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the early 1900s – came in April, when a lawyer accused Pamuk of inciting “hatred and animosity” by insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and ridiculing the flag of Turkey in the work. An Istanbul court decided not to take the claim forward due to lack of evidence, but the lawyer who brought the case, Tarcan Ülük, appealed against the decision and the investigation has now been reopened.

Pamuk was previously prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” after raising the 1915 killings of Armenians and Kurds in an interview. Those charges were dropped in 2006 – the same year Pamuk won the Nobel prize for literature, praised as an author who “in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”.

Law 5816, under which Pamuk is now being investigated, is intended to protect “the memory of Atatürk” from insult by any Turkish citizen. If found guilty, Pamuk faces up to three years in prison.

In a statement to Bianet, Pamuk denied the latest charges. “In Nights of Plague, which I worked on for five years, there is no disrespect for the heroic founders of the nation states founded from the ashes of empires or for Atatürk. On the contrary, the novel was written with respect and admiration for these libertarian and heroic leaders,” he said.

He was backed by free speech organisations around the world, who urged authorities not to prosecute him. “Orhan Pamuk is Turkey’s national treasure, a literary asset whose words reverberate across the globe and should be celebrated as such, yet he finds himself once again targeted for his writings,” said PEN International president Burhan Sönmez. “The Turkish authorities have repeatedly used criminal defamation laws to silence those who dare to speak out, and this case is no exception.”

“These baseless accusations have already been dismissed in court,” added Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “The reopening of the investigation, despite the lack of evidence and [the] initial court decision not to prosecute the case, points to the overall climate of repression against writers in Turkey and demonstrates how the legal system enables appalling authoritarian restrictions on free expression and creativity.”

According to PEN America, at least 25 writers were jailed last year by the Turkish government, the third-highest number globally. The Turkish Publishers Association also called on prosecutors to drop the investigation. “Court cases such as this pose a huge burden on the time and resources of publishers and writers, creating an atmosphere of threat and tension,” it said in a statement translated by Bianet. “Such interferences, which turn into de facto bans on books, harm the principle of democratic society and we call on the authorities to take concrete steps to immediately end the investigation.”

Daniel Gorman, Director of English PEN, said: “The fact that an investigation has been launched highlights the significant restrictions on freedom of expression faced by writers in Turkey today. We urge Turkish authorities to drop the case against him, and we continue to campaign against ongoing attempts by the Turkish government to silence writers.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Orhan Pamuk wins Nobel prize

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, whose trial on charges of "insulting Turkishness" was dropped earlier this year, has won the 2006 Nobel prize for literature.

Richard Lea and agencies

12, Oct, 2006 @1:55 PM

Article image
Author Orhan Pamuk: ‘I used to have three bodyguards, now I have one’
Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk on Salman Rushdie’s attack, responding to extremism in Turkey – and his new, oddly prophetic, pandemic novel

Lisa Allardice

10, Sep, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak: Istanbul, city of dreams and nightmares
As his Museum of Innocence comes to Britain, the Nobel prizewinner takes author Elif Shafak on a tour of his cabinet of curiosities and discusses the collective amnesia of a country where writers can be jailed for a tweet

Elif Shafak

27, Jan, 2016 @12:56 PM

Article image
Pamuk cancels Germany visit amid safety fears
Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has cancelled a publicity tour of Germany amid fears for his safety following the murder of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink.

Jess Smee in Berlin

31, Jan, 2007 @12:04 PM

Leader: In praise of... Orhan Pamuk
Leader: The case of Orhan Pamuk is a sharp reminder that laws designed to protect the Turkish state against the citizen and suppress freedom of thought or expression have no place in a modern society.


16, Dec, 2005 @1:20 PM

Article image
Pressure from Turkey blamed as Sarajevo reverses decision to honour Orhan Pamuk
The Nobel laureate, who is a vocal critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was nominated for the honour while writing screenplay about Bosnian war

Alison Flood

20, Feb, 2018 @1:03 PM

Article image
The Silent House by Orhan Pamuk – review

Mark Lawson sees the promise of the Nobel laureate in a prescient early work

Mark Lawson

12, Oct, 2012 @9:55 PM

Article image
Nobel winners demand release of Belarusian peace laureate Ales Bialiatski
Open letter condemning the detention of the human rights activist, who won the 2022 prize, signed by more than 100 laureates including Kazuo Ishiguro and JM Coetzee

Sarah Shaffi

21, May, 2023 @9:00 AM

Pamuk's Nobel divides Turkey

Twenty-four hours after Orhan Pamuk became the first ever Turkish writer to win the Nobel prize, reactions in Turkey are strangely mixed.

Nicholas Birch

13, Oct, 2006 @3:26 PM

Elif Shafak: Pamuk's Nobel is a family affair

The anger and delight which greeted Orhan Pamuk's Nobel prize in Turkey are no surprise, says Elif Shafak. Turkey has always expected novelists to provide more than words.

Elif Shafak

20, Oct, 2006 @10:29 AM