Turkish writer faces jail for `criticising military'

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The Independent Online
THE JUDGE looked bored. Could counsel for the accused keep their defence to a few sentences, he asked. Apparently, he was in a hurry.

Just another day of Turkish justice: a prominent woman journalist was facing a possible six years in jail for daring to criticise the Turkish military in a book. Nadire Mater is facing a jail sentence for Mehmed's Book, a series of interviews with Turkish conscripts who fought against Kurdish rebels.

The book was an instant success, running through four editions in two months. It raises serious questions of the effect of Turkey's brutal campaign on the soldiers' mental health.

Ms Mater says the criticisms come from the interviewed soldiers, not her.

As writers and intellectuals crammed into a tiny Istanbul courtroom yesterday to support Ms Mater, the Turkish Prime Minister was being feted in Washington for his government's commitment to human rights.

"This meeting is taking place in an atmosphere of hope," said the US President, Bill Clinton, as he met Bulent Ecevit. Earlier, the US State Department greeted the release of Turkey's leading human rights activist, Akin Birdal, as "the latest in a number of positive steps on human rights".

In fact, Mr Birdal, jailed for speeches he made, was not pardoned but released on health grounds after a doctor advised he was too ill to stay in prison. His sentence has merely been postponed six months.

The other "positive steps", presumably, include a recent amnesty for jailed writers and intellectuals, which Mr Ecevit has been parading as proof of his commitment to improving human rights. The amnesty is one under which writers are not pardoned but are put on parole for three years.

Ms Mater's case exposes the amnesty as little more than cosmetic. No sooner have the prisons been emptied of writers than the courts are preparing to fill them up again.

And, while Mr Ecevit basks in Washington's applause, who is pursuing Ms Mater through the courts? The indictment reveals that the prosecution was initiated by the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces and lists the main informant as the chief of staff.