Award-winning novelist Asli Erdogan goes on trial amid crackdown in Turkey
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Novelist and writer Asli Erdogan went on trial in Turkey on Thursday as part of a widespread crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, including the arrests of dozens of journalists and teachers.
The 49-year-old novelist, who is not related to the president, was charged with spreading “terrorist propaganda” after she was taken into custody in August as part of a probe into the now closed pro-Kurdish newspaper "Ozgur Gundem".
Erdogan is one of Turkey’s most prominent contemporary novelists, the author of seven books, and her case has caused 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 Ankara correspondent, Jasper Mortimer.
“Asli Erdogan is a respected author and political activist in Turkey, so she came along and chaired the morning news conference,” Mortimer explained.
Her arrest comes alongside the detentions of more than 20 other journalists and employees from the newspaper. Necmiye Alpay, 70, a prominent linguist who has also done widely praised translations of Western novels into Turkish, also went on trial Thursday.
Erdogan has published several well-received novels including "The City in Crimson Cloak", which was translated into several languages including English.
A trained physicist, Erdogan 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.