Defence Statement of Nadire Mater to the Chief Judge
Nadire Mater, Turkey
November 26, 1999
Who is on trial here? Journalist Nadire Mater and publisher Semih Sökmen? Or perhaps our young men, who we sent to military service, all the while cheering, "You are going into the military, may you come back healthy!"
One of the young men I interviewed told me, "I have been waiting. I knew that someone would finally come." "Why," he asked, "have you been so late in coming?"
I too, would like to know: "Why has Mehmed's Book been banned so late? Why have we had to wait so long for a trial?" A journalist is one who communicates, and I believe that our book is an important act of communication. For fifteen years, this country has been unaware of the love, anger, fear, and happiness—in brief, all the emotions and the thoughts—of the youth we send to the military. As the young man I interviewed told me, this country has sent our youth to "be killed or wounded, endure the deaths of friends as they fell near by." The survivors, moreover, have been obliged "to control their emotions for the rest of their lives." That young man had been waiting for someone to come. All I had to do was ask. He spoke willingly, along with forty-two young men like him, a small fraction of the three to four million boys who have until now survived military service in the south-eastern emergency zone. It is these forty-two young men who made this book happen.
The "situation"—whether we label it war, low-intensity conflict, or counter-terrorism operations—has already cost the lives of some thirty thousand human beings. During those fifteen long years many people, including senior officers, journalists, human rights activists, and representatives of international organizations, have had the chance to express themselves, express support for or their criticism of the fighting. Yet the young men who served in the emergency zone and who have, willingly or unwillingly, become the immediate subjects of the conflict, have been forced to remain silent. Who can tell us more concretely than those young men what goes on there? We honored them as "heroes" when we sent them to fight, but we then stripped them of their right to speak out. This denial of their rights is once again evident in the banning and seizure of Mehmed's Book.
Mehmed, it seems, will not be allowed to speak. There is little doubt that the real people on trial are the forty-two "Mehmeds" who have spoken out through this book. This was confirmed by the indictment itself, which cites a number of quotes deemed offensive by the state. None of those passages, however, was taken from the introduction to the book, the only pages that contain my own words. The quotes "proving" our alleged guilt were all taken directly from the mouths of the young men I interviewed!
Since Mehmed's Book was first published on April 15, 1999, it has become a hit in Istanbul's bookstores. Newspapers, magazines, and TV stations have been unable to ignore the phenomenon, and Mehmed's Book has been written up in more than 100 articles printed in domestic and international newspapers. This does not include the numerous TV and radio discussions devoted to the topic. All of the journalists who have interviewed me regarding Mehmed's Book have asked the same question: "Have you ever received negative criticism of the book?"
Until June 23, 1999, my standard reply was "No, not one." Ever since that day, however, I have been compelled to revise my answer, amending it to "No, with the exception of the Beyo_lu Court, which banned my book at the request of the Beyo_lu District Prosecutor." It is hard to believe that the prosecutor did not read the book himself. After all, it went through four editions in two months, aroused passionate interest, and sold at least fifteen thousand legal copies, in addition to thousands produced by pirate publishers. In the weeks following the book's publication, the prosecutor surely had adequate time to read this much-discussed, 267-page book. Why did he not ban it then? Why did he wait over two months?
The book was banned on June 23, 1999, two days after a written complaint from an "informant." In his letter to the Justice Ministry, this "informant" did not properly identify the book's title and incorrectly spelled the name of the author and the publisher. According to the informant, the book included statements that "insulted and belittled" the military. Although this country claims to have an independent judiciary, this assertion has been recently challenged by legal luminaries such as the Chair of the Constitutional Court and the country's Chief Justice. The fate of Mehmed's Book lends weight to their criticisms. The Justice Ministry requested that the book be banned, and this was carried out by the local court. This means that the public prosecutor, whose job it is to zzzzzzzzzaenforce the law in the name of the public, has in fact failed to protect the public interest. It was the "public," after all, which welcomed and treasured the banned book!
When we received the indictment, it was evident that the "informant" who had originally complained to the Justice Ministry was the Chief of Staff himself. The "complaint" was signed by then Deputy Chief of Staff General Hilmi Özkök. His signature was dated June 18, 1999, only days before the court ordered the banning. When copying down the "offensive" quotes from the book, the prosecutor seems to have been deeply inspired by the Chief of Staff's letter. To begin with, the passages contain thirty-six arbitrarily selected quotations taken out of context. They ignore the rest of the men's narratives, and ignore the details they give of their lives. Interestingly, they are also poorly transcribed. A different reading and a different selection of quotes might have produced a different indictment. Charges based on arbitrarily selected quotes taken out of their proper context are poorly formulated charges indeed!
Anyone living in this country–including the prosecutor and the judges—who has sons of military age should read Mehmed's Book in order to gain a deeper understanding of the military life. Otherwise, we could neither oppose the war nor defend life. The vigorous public debate over the recent "exemption from military service" law is a dramatic indication of the different opinions of various social groups regarding the draft. If the prosecutor had properly read Mehmed's Book, he would have come across a section entitled "Figures." According to data supplied by the Chief of Staff himself, over 200,000 men living in this country have evaded military service. As of December, 1998, another 226,000 Turkish citizens living abroad had failed to report for their military service. As a result of the most recent legislation, these roughly five hundred draft evaders will be exempted from service or prosecution, provided they pay the state 15 to 20,000 German marks, in cash.
These draft evaders have been rewarded for escaping military service, being subjected to nothing more than a fine. The forty-two men I interviewed for Mehmed's Book, on the other hand, did not evade the draft, but went to fight in the south east, willingly or unwillingly. Yet it is they who are on trial for speaking out! In sum, I plead "Not guilty" to the prosecutor's charges of having insulted and belittled the Turkish military. I demand that Mehmed's Book, a book reflecting human experience and exposing this country's reality, be returned to its proper place: the bookstore shelf. If we are convicted and the ban is not lifted, our trial will represent more than a drastic violation of press freedoms and the public's right to know. It will be an attempt to silence all the "Mehmeds," once and for all. As a journalist, as a woman, and as a mother living in this country, I will not bow to this.
Nadire Mater's defence statement to the Chief Judge, at Beyo_lu 2. Penal Court,
Istanbul, Turkey, November 26, 1999.