Pamuk trial in Turkey sparks scuffles in, out of court

December 17, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISTANBUL, TURKEY -- The internationally publicized trial of this nation's best-known novelist, Orhan Pamuk, on charges of insulting Turkey was suspended yesterday in a tense first hearing marred by scuffles within and outside the Istanbul courtroom.

Many European Union observers who came to show support for Pamuk said they had expected the presiding judge to dismiss the case against the writer and end the damage it has caused to Turkey's efforts to gain membership in the European Union.

Judge Metin Aydin agreed instead to the prosecution's request that the trial be suspended until the Justice Ministry delivers an opinion on the case, which has been mired in legal ambiguities.

British lawmaker Dennis McShane, who attended the trial as an observer, said: "The accusation of insulting the state is something you associate with dictatorial regimes, not with a modern European state."

Pamuk, 53, is facing up to three years in prison if convicted of "public denigrations of Turkish identity." The charge stems from an interview with a Swiss magazine in February in which he was quoted as saying: "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey and no one dares talk about it."

His comments referred to the Turkish army's brutal suppression of a Kurdish separatist rebellion in recent times and to the genocide campaign against Armenians perpetrated by Ottoman forces between 1915 and 1918.

Pamuk's words triggered fury among many Turks. Yesterday, demonstrators booed the author and pelted him with eggs as he made his way out of the courtroom. Others lunged at and kicked his car.

Inside the courtroom, McShane was struck in the face by an ultranationalist attorney with the private group that first raised the complaint against Pamuk. The attorney was reportedly angered by the presence of foreigners at the proceedings.

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