Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Same Speech, Same Courthouse, Different Ruling

If there was any doubt to the capriciousness entailed in the application of Article 301, it should be laid aside. Although Eren Keskin was found guilty in 2006 of violating Article 301 for critical remarks about the military, she has been acquitted for the same crime and in the same courthourse as that in which she was convicted last year. The crime for which Keskin was convicted last fall stemmed from commentary she gave at a conference in Cologne in 2002 in which she addressed the problem of sexual assault in the military. Keskin was convicted again this March for comments she made in a German newspaper (see March 22 post).

In Cologne, Keskin remarked, "The military in Turkey is involved in commerce. It buys and sells banks. It collects arms and capital in the same hand. As long as the country is not ruled by civilian forces, the problems of women will never be solved. The soldiers [i.e., the military] engage in sexual abuse. They even give married women chastity tests just to torture them." Two criminal investigations were opened against Keskin under Article 301 for the same remark. One investigation followed a complaint made by staunch secularist academic and CHP deputy Necla Arat and the other followed a complaint filed a year later by the police in İstanbul.

Keskin's 2006 conviction was in response to the complaint filed by Arat and was delivered by the Kartal Criminal Court of 3rd Instance. Her acquittal was issued in the Kartal Criminal Court of 5th Instance not far from the court that had convicted her the year before. The latter court ruled that Keskin's remarks "are only harsh criticism. They fall under the scope of freedom of expression."

The case further scandalizes the Turkish state's practice of convicting its critics for speech some state actors consider offensive. The Kartal Criminal Court of 3rd Instance sentenced Keskin to 10 months in prison. Although the verdict was converted to a fine of YTL 6,000, Keskin is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals and has vowed to serve her time in jail rather than pay it. The appeals court is expected to announce its verdict May 22.

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