Leading Turkish writer faces jail after incurring wrath of military

A Turkishnewspaper columnist will confront the might of the state in a case which exposes the refusal of the Turkish establishment to accept European human rights laws.

Perihan Magden, 45, faces a possible jail sentence for the crime of "prompting, encouraging or spreading propaganda to deter people from carrying out military service". In a column in December last year, she wrote about Mehmet Tarhan, who was locked up for refusing to do military service.

Mr Tarhan, who is gay, is one of a growing number of Turks who refuse the compulsory 18-month call-up. But unlike most he didn't merely dodge it. Nor did he submit himself to the draft and then admit to being homosexual, which would have got him off the hook as gays are barred from serving.

Instead he challenged the army to fall in line with the practice of every other European country which has the draft and give him an alternative duty. He was arrested and imprisoned.

When Turkey was fined by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for refusing to recognise the rights of another conscientious objector, Osman Murat Ulke, Mr Tarhan was released. But both men remain in a legal limbo, unable to get work, to take out an insurance policy or have marriage or birth recognised by the state.

Turkey is the only state among the 46 members of the Council of Europe which has refused to recognise the status of conscientious objectors or give them an alternative to military service.

After the Strasbourg ruling in April, the Turkish government was said to be drawing up legislation to protect conscientious objectors. But in one of the many signs of tension between the government and what Turks call the "deep state" - composed of the army, the civil service and much of the legal profession - a journalist who happens to be a single mother is now threatened with jail for upholding European norms.

Ms Magden said yesterday: "It's shocking that they are putting me on trial. I've no idea what will happen. The case could finish tomorrow or it could stretch on and on. The unnerving thing about the courts is they are so unpredictable, it's like a lottery. It's torture."

Recently the novelist Orhan Pamuk wrote an article in her support. Since then, she said, "other columnists have started backing me up".

Mr Pamuk wrote: "Perihan Magden is one of the most inventive and outspoken writers of our time ... Turkey's columnists are as important in the shaping of public opinion as its news editors ... Her fiery outbursts, her combative independence and her steely conscience make her just the sort of independent woman that Ataturk saw in Turkey's future when he founded the Republic. But in a bizarre twist, the Turkish army, which likes to see itself as the defender of Ataturk's revolution, is now threatening to put that freedom on trial."

Ms Magden said: "I can't see a more natural and commendable attitude than an individual's rejection of holding a gun in his hands. If I had a son I wouldn't accept sending him away for 18 months to do his compulsory service.

"If you're waiting in front of the European Union's gate to become a member country, then you have to grant your citizens the right to be conscientious objectors."

In recent months there has been a flood of prosecutions of Turkish intellectuals for "thought crime". Ms Magden said: "The prosecution system is a real barrier to justice. They file cases practically every time there is criticism. I don't believe there is a single prosecutor who dares not file a case if the complainant is the Army General Staff."

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