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.

It is not every day that a world-class writer ends up in court, still less so on charges of insulting his country. That is the deplorable fate of Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish author of acclaimed novels such as Snow, Istanbul and My Name is Red.

When he was awarded a literary prize in Germany recently Mr Pamuk was praised for work that traces "the imprints of the east on the west and those of the west on the east". His crime, according to the prosecutor of the Istanbul district court, where his trial begins today, is to have spoken of the killing of Kurds in Turkey's south-east, and the 1915 massacres of Armenians - though he sidestepped the ever- neuralgic question of whether they constituted genocide.

He is alleged to have infringed article 301 of the penal code, recently revised - but badly so - as part of Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Mr Pamuk's prosecution has embarrassed the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still celebrating October's launch of EU membership talks after a 40-year wait, which has sought to distance itself from it.

But that is not enough: the case 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. The trial will be observed closely by many loyal friends of the writer and of his country, now on track to becoming the only secular Muslim democracy in the EU. It is in the interests of all concerned that this foolish prosecution - and article 301 - be dropped.


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