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Prominent Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan released pending trial

Ozan Kose, AFP | Protesters gather outside an Istanbul courthouse where Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan and other journalists and writers faced a trial December 29, 2016.

A Turkish court on Thursday ordered the release of prominent novelist Asli Erdogan and linguist Necimye Alpay pending trial. Erdogan, who was on the board of a pro-Kurdish newspaper, was arrested August for allegedly belonging to a terrorist group.

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An Istanbul court ordered Erdogan’s release under judicial supervision. The next trial hearing is scheduled for January 2017.

Erdogan and Alpay were not released in the courthouse but taken back to their prison in Bakirkoy in Istanbul to complete formalities, as is customary in Turkey.

One of Erdogan's supporters, Aysegul Tozeren, who followed the trial, told the AFP that she was expected to walk free later Thursday. 

Erdogan will still have to report to police and remains subject to a ban on leaving Turkey, she told AFP.

Supporters were also heading to the Bakirkoy women's prison in anticipation of their release.

The 49-year-old novelist’s trial is part of a widespread crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the media, which has sparked condemnation from Turkish and international rights groups.

Erdogan, who is not related to the president, is one of Turkey’s most prominent contemporary novelists, the author of seven books, and her case sparked an international outcry. She was also a columnist and advisory board member of "Ozgur Gundem", although her collaboration with the opposition paper was brief.

“When [Ozgur Gundem] saw government pressure increase this year, it invited Turkish celebrities to serve as ‘editor for a day’. The paper wanted outsiders, preferably those with a reputation, to see that it was just a regular newspaper,” said FRANCE 24’s Turkey correspondent, Jasper Mortimer.

However Ozgur Gundem managing editor Inan Kizilkaya and other staff journalists were not released pending trial, prompting questions about their treatment by press rights groups and the opposition CHP party. 

Erdogan was arrested in August along with 20 other journalists and employees from the newspaper, including Alpay, 70, a prominent linguist who has also done widely praised translations of Western novels into Turkish.

Intimidation campaign

Erdogan has penned several well-received novels including "The City in Crimson Cloak", which was translated into several languages including English.

A trained physicist, she turned to literature in 1994, the year she published her first novel, “Kabuk Adam” (Crust Man). Her short story "Wooden Birds" received the first place prize from Germany's Deutsche Welle radio in a 1997 competition.

Many of her works have been translated into French. In 2005 she was shortlisted by the respected French literary magazine "Lire" as one of the “50 most promising authors of tomorrow”.

Activists worry about a drastically worsening climate for writers and journalists in Turkey, particularly since a state of emergency was imposed in the wake of a failed July 15 coup.

“The police have never found weapons at Erdogan or Alpay’s homes or anything like that. They might be convicted on their first trial, but I am confident that eventually they would be acquitted. But that might take three to four years,” FRANCE 24's Mortimer said.

“In the meantime, the trial will have served its purpose, and that is simply to intimidate the opposition and make people like Asli Erdogan and Necmiye Alpay think twice before they stand up to the government,” he added. “This is the situation we are in in Turkey at the moment.”

According to the P24 Platform for Independent Journalism, 118 journalists have been arrested since the state of emergency was imposed, 80 of them in relation to investigations into the coup.

Turkey's state-run news agency said that police on Thursday detained a prominent investigative journalist for questioning over a series of social media postings. Anadolu Agency said that Ahmet Sik was detained on suspicion that he had insulted the state, its military and its police on Twitter and was resposible for terrorist propaganda.

Authorities have arrested 1,656 people in the past six months for allegedly supporting terrorist organisations or for insulting officials on social media. They are investigating another 10,000 people on similar charges, according to government figures.

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