Novelist says censorship of book is government’s attempt to suppress differences of opinion

Novelist Ahmet Ümit, the sale of whose book was restricted in March for alleged obscenity, said the decision was a result of the Turkish government’s attempt to suppress opinions that differ from its own.

Speaking to Independent Turkish service, Ümit said he had traveled to various countries for speaking engagements and that in each country he was asked about the censorship. “They [the government] don’t want us to dream or use our imagination. They want to suppress different opinions and perspectives,” he said. “Opinions that differ from their own have no place in their regime. This is what’s become of the country in the last 20 years. It’s embarrassing and very dangerous.”

Turkey’s Family and Social Services Ministry deemed Ümit’s book, “Başkomser Nevzat 2 / Tapınak Fahişeleri”(Chief of Police Nevzat, Prostitutes Templar), to have a “harmful effect on the spirituality of those under the age of 18,” in accordance with Article 4 of Law No. 1117 on the Protection of Minors from Harmful Publications.

From March onwards the book can only be sold under cover and only if specifically requested; will be available solely in retail bookstores; and will come with a warning that sales are restricted to adults.

“The book wasn’t written for minors,” said Ümit. “It was written for adults, and it was published way back in 2007; therefore, the ministry’s decision is ridiculous.”

Adding that the censorship of his book was a small part of the government’s attack on freedom of expression, Ümit said the country had long departed from the rule of law and that he was no longer surprised by government bans. “A political party that described itself as Muslim democrat has become totalitarian. I’m not surprised, but I also don’t think we should stop resisting this authoritarian turn. The upcoming election is our best chance to turn the tide.”

Ümit said his readers had stood by him during these difficult times and that many had bought his censored book in solidarity.

The Turkish government has censored and banned other books in the last few months. Turkish writer Yavuz Ekinci’s novel “Rüyasi Bölünenler” (Dream Divided) was banned and confiscated on terrorism charges. On March 14 an Istanbul court ruled that the book included content that amounted to terrorist propaganda and banned its publication, distribution and sale under Article 7/2 of Anti-Terror Law No. 3713. Copies of the book were also confiscated.

In response to the ban on his book, Ekinci said the government could arrest the novel’s characters if they wanted to. “The book was published years ago. Even I’ve forgotten some of the details,” he said expressing his surprise with the ruling.

According to Ekinci somebody read his book and filed a complaint, which led to the court’s ruling. “As writers we can write on topics that can be uncomfortable for others to discuss,” he said. “Censoring or banning a book only restricts some readers’ access to that book. For instance, Turkish readers can’t get ahold of my book, whereas German and English readers can.”

According to PEN International Turkish authorities have dramatically increased their influence on the media and publishing landscape in recent years, leading to a growing number of books being branded “obscene” and vilified by the pro-government media. On March 21 PEN Türkiye, the Turkish Publishers Association and the Turkish Writers Union issued a statement condemning the bans on books by Ekinci and Murat Kahraman and restrictions on those by Ümit and Jeanette Winterson. According to the statement 36 books were branded “obscene” between July 2018 and December 2022. In 2022 a total of 10 books, including eight children’s books, were declared harmful to the public.

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