Turkish authorities should not charge Nobel laureate and PEN International Vice President Orhan Pamuk with “insulting” Atatürk and the Turkish flag, PEN International said in a statement on Tuesday, as an investigation has been launched into his novel “Nights of Plague” (Veba Geceleri).
In April 2021 Tarcan Ülük, a lawyer from İzmir, lodged a complaint against Pamuk, stating that the acclaimed novelist had incited hatred and animosity among the public by insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk — the founder of modern Turkey — in his latest book “Nights of Plague.” The complaint further accused Pamuk of ridiculing the Turkish flag.
Ülük suggested that Pamuk was equating main character Kolağası Kamil with Atatürk and that this was evidenced by the fact that the author wrote that “he eventually became the president” in the book.
Ülük further maintained that the book also ridiculed the Turkish flag, referring to it as “the funny flag featuring the emblem of a Greek pharmacy.”
The İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation and sent the file to its counterpart in İstanbul, which decided not to prosecute. The claimant subsequently appealed the decision. His objection was accepted by a penal court of peace in November, triggering a new investigation. Pamuk denies all accusations.
“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 Burhan Sönmez, PEN International president. “The Turkish authorities have repeatedly used criminal defamation laws to silence those who dare to speak out, and this case is no exception. The PEN Community stands in solidarity with Pamuk and urges the authorities not to prosecute him.”
Law 5816, titled “The Law Concerning Crimes Committed Against Atatürk,” in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) protects “the memory of Atatürk” from insult by any Turkish citizen. An offense against the memory of Atatürk is punishable by up to three years in prison. “PEN International opposes criminal defamation in all cases and calls on the Turkish authorities to repeal criminal defamation and insult laws,” the statement said.
Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most acclaimed novelists, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. He was elected vice president of PEN International in 2019. His latest novel, “Nights of Plague,” was published in Turkey in March 2021.
This is not the first time Pamuk has been targeted for his writings. He was charged in 2005 with “insulting Turkishness” for commenting during an interview with a Swiss newspaper that “thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed” in Turkey and “nobody but me dares to talk about it.” Pamuk received death threats, and copies of his books were burned. The PEN community actively campaigned on his behalf; the case against him was eventually dropped in the wake of international outrage.
Freedom of speech is a contested issue in Turkey, where dozens of people are prosecuted every day for expressing their views about the government and their actions as well as topics deemed “taboo” in Turkey like Atatürk.