Thursday, February 18, 2010

Literature or Pornography?

Literature and works of art are exempt from articles criminalizing obsencity in the Turkish Penal Code, but what is deemed "literature" is subject to debate. In a recent case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Court ruled that Turkey infringed on the freedom of expression when it convicted Hades Publishing House owner Rahmi Akdas for publishing the controversial, highly erotic novel of French author Guillaume Appolinaire. From Bianet:
The decision was announced by the ECHR on Tuesday (16 February). The court declared that there nothing to say against the protection of moral values. Nevertheless, "Acknowledgment of the cultural, historical and religious particularities of the Council of Europe's member States could not go so far as to prevent public access in a particular language, in this instance Turkish, to a work belonging to the European literary heritage".

The ECHR pointed out that the requirements of morals depended on time and place and therefore national authorities were more competent to perceive whether restrictions were necessary. However, in this case it should not be ignored that the work had been initially published more than a century ago.

The court board, including Turkish judge Işıl Karakaş, unanimously decreed for a violation of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights on freedom of expression. Since Akdaş had not requested compensation, the court refrained from sentencing Turkey to a compensation fine.

Publisher Akdaş, who lives in the city of Bandırma south of the Sea of Marmara, was sentenced to a monetary fine of 684 Turkish Lira (TL) on the grounds of "obscenity" and "harming inner feelings of the people" by publishing the work which contains graphic descriptions of scenes of sexual intercourse, even though it is a fictional work.

On 11 March 2004, the Court of Appeals approved the decision and decreed for the seizure and destruction of all copies of the book. Akdaş was forced to pay his fine in November 2004.

Sel Publishing official İrfan Sancı is being prosecuted on the grounds of Guillaume Apollinaire's book entitled "The Exploits of a Young Don Juan". Additionally, Metin Üstündağ stood accused of "obscene contents" regarding the caricature album entitled "Sunday Lovers", he was released. Enis Batur was tried under the same allegations for his novel "Apple".
According to the Guardian, Akdas had argued the "the humorous and exaggerated nature of the text was more likely to extinguish sexual desire."

The Sanci case drew the attention of the European officials this week when European Parliament MP Philip Claeys submitted an inquiry to the European Commission. Commisioner Olli Rehn responded that the Commission is monitoring the case, and will inform Turkey of its concern. Apparently, in some review process of which I am not aware (required for prosecutors to bring charges?) "experts" at Istanbul Commerce University ruled that three works Sanci published through Sel had no literary value, "paving the way for them to be accused of being obscene."

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