Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Forgotten Case of Eren Keskin

With all the recent talk of coming reform, it seems important to stress yesterday's conviction of human rights activist Eren Keskin. Keskin was sentenced to six months in prison under Article 301 after the Turkish General Staff filed suit against her for a comment she made to the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

Commenting on what even EU diplomats have called an unhealthy amount of involvement of the military in politics and an undue influence in judicial proceedings, Keskin told the paper, "Politics in Turkey is dominated by the military; no Turkish civilian government will ever be able to enforce its program against the generals." The Turkish General Staff claimed that the comment insulted the military and was therefore illegal under Article 301.

She was sentenced in a hearing that lasted no longer than 15 minutes.

Keskin's case has failed to attract much attention since yesterday's skimming of New York Times was the first time I had heard of her. The Times included a small news brief of her conviction from Agence France-Presse. It is sad that not more attention is given to such cases as such a shaky conviction would surely make news had it happened in other countries. However, as I write in my post of March 13, most Article 301 convictions rarely make headlines.

According to Today's Zaman, Keskin had been convicted once before in 2006 for comments she made regarding sexual assault in womens' prisons—a victim of Article 301 both times. In that case, Keskin refused to pay a fine of YTL 6,000 and opted instead for the prison sentence. Keskin insists that her comments were political criticism and not an insult of the military and said she will appeal her case.

Keskin founded the Project for Legal Aid to Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault under Custody and is head of the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association. No stranger to perilous circumstances, Keskin has received numerous death threats. In 2001, Amnesty International issued an alert regarding her safety.

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