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 Urgent Appeal to Friends of Women’s Freedom of Speech
 Meredith Tax, USA
 January 13, 2000
 

I am writing to ask you to send a letter of appeal for the dismissal of charges against NADIRE MATIR, a Turkish feminist writer, and her publisher, SEMIH SOKMEN of Metis Press, who are on trial for treason for writing and publishing Mehmedin Kitabi/Mehmet’s Book, a collection of interviews with Turkish draftees who were sent to fight the Kurds in Southeastern Turkey. Their next court date is FRIDAY, JANUARY 21. Both face jail sentences of one to six years. It is critical that the government of Turkey receive as many messages on this case as possible by early next week.

What to do: Of course, it will be great if you want to write your own letter of appeal in your own words. But, in the interest of haste, I have attached a possible text for such a letter. You can download the text (onto organizational or academic letterhead, if possible), replace my signature with your own, and fax it to the Prime Minister and email or fax it to the President.

Purpose of the letters: A number of organizations, such as International PEN, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Human Rights Watch, have already written the Turkish government, so they know these organizations are on the case, but they have not yet seen any popular international mobilization on it. The object of this campaign is to persuade the government that so many people all over the world know about the case that they will really look bad unless they drop it. Since, as The New York Times said yesterday, "membership in the European Union...has become a transcendent national goal" for Turkey, world pressure could well have an effect on the government.

Nadire Matir: Nadire Matir is a journalist and human rights activist. She was a founding member of the Turkish Human Rights Association in 1986 and has been active in the feminist movement and the "Saturday Mothers Vigils" by mothers of the disappeared. Since 1991, she has been working for the IPS (InterPress Service), and she is the Turkish representative of Reporters Without Borders. In 1997, she received a MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Award in Global Security and Sustainability, in order to prepare a book consisting of testimonies from forty-two ex-soldiers who did their compulsory military service in the Southeast, in the war on the Kurds. This research led to Mehmedin Kitabi/Mehmet’s Book.

Mehmedin Kitabi/Mehmet’s Book: The book was published in April 1999 by Metis Press, a small feminist publisher. It is the only book that shows the war from the point of view of the ordinary draftee. As such, it was passionately discussed and went through four editions in three months, selling over 15,000 legal copies and many more in pirate editions. Then, on June 23, it was suddenly banned, and the author and publisher were charged with "insulting and belittling the military." Nadire Matir said in her statement to the court:

The "situation"—whether we label it war, low intensity conflict or counter-terrorism operations— has already cost the lives of some 30 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, and express support for or 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. . . . There is little doubt that the real people on trial are the 42 "Mehmeds" who have spoken out through this book. This was confirmed by 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!

"Amnesty" for writers: According to International PEN, there are more writers in prison in Turkey than any other country. The Turkish government has long been resistant to pressure on their behalf, but recently, in an effort to deflect criticisms of its human rights record—a major obstacle in Turkey’s efforts to enter the European Union—the Turkish government declared an "amnesty" for writers in prison. This amnesty did not annul any charges but suspended legal action for three years. The first edition of Mehmet’s Book came out during the amnesty; but the writer and publisher are being prosecuted for the second through fourth editions! This does seem to call into question Turkey’s efforts to reform. As Nadire Matir said in a press statement Oct. 12: "The ruling coalition claims to have broadened freedom of expression and thought in Turkey. But this indictment is fresh evidence that, in the absence of substantive change in Turkish law, grave threats against basic freedoms of thought, expression, and information still prevail."

Case Initiated by Military: After the court decision banning her book, Nadire petitioned the Ministry of Justice to withdraw the charges. They responded by saying that in Turkey, the judiciary is independent of the executive branch, and they had no authority over the judges. Despite this alleged separation of powers, the indictment clearly states that it was initiated by the executive branch, in fact, by the military, in the person of Deputy Chief of Staff General Hilmi Oskok.

Possible Outcomes of Trial: According to a letter written to me by Müge Sökmen, co-publisher of Metis Press, Nadire Matir and Semih Sökmen face sentences of one to six years in prison. If they are given the minimum sentence of a year, Nadire Matir’s penalty will be "postponed" and she can remain free as long as she does not offend in any other way, and the publisher’s penalty will be turned into a substantial fine. The book, however, will remain banned. If they are sentenced to more than a year, they will have to serve time. Political prisoners in Turkey are frequently tortured. Moreover, while there are special facilities for male political prisoners, there are none for women. It is easy to imagine conditions for women prisoners.

Letters: Letters should make the following points in extremely polite language:

o The case against Nadire Matir has no legal basis, in that the quotations in the indictment are not from sections she wrote, but come from interviews with soldiers.

o The case violates Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights; it also violates the norms of freedom of expression and democratic procedures mandated by the European Union. Because the indictment originated in the military, the case is also a clear violation of the normal separation of powers between the executive and judiciary branches of a civil government.

o For all these reasons, and to ensure the healthy discussion of diverging opinions necessary to democracy, the ban on Mehmedin Kitabi/Mehmet’s Book should be withdrawn and all charges against its author and publisher should be dropped.

A sample copy of such a letter follows. Please send me a copy of your own letter, to , and send one to Nadire herself at And please circulate this email widely and ask your friends to send letters, too, stressing that they must act immediately as the trial is in a week.

Thank you for your help,

Meredith Tax, President Women’s World Organization for Rights, Literature, and Development (Women’s WORLD)
208 W. 30th St., #901
New York, NY 10001
Tel: 1-212-947-2915
Fax: 1-212-947-2973

SAMPLE LETTER

His Excellency Suleyman Demirel
Office of the President
Cumhurbaskanligi
06100 Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 468 5026
Email: cankaya@tccb.gov.tr

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit
Basbakanlik
Ankara, Turkey
fax number: (90312) 417 0476

Dear President Demirel and Prime Minister Ecevit:

I am writing to urge you to use your influence to have the case dismissed that has been brought against Nadire Matir and Semih Sökmen for writing and publishing Mehmedin Kitabi/Mehmet’s Book, a series of interviews with ordinary soldiers about their military experiences.

Because this case violates democratic norms, it can only embarrass Turkey in its movement towards entry into the European Union, the countries of which see freedom of speech and the press as basic democratic rights. The case also violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by which all members of the United Nations have agreed to abide. The indictment originated with the military; a clear violation of the independence of the judicial branch of the Turkish government. In addition, the indictment is absurd because none of the quotations cited as examples of disrespect for the military are quotations from the sections of the book by Nadire Matir herself; they all come from interviews.

For these reasons, and to ensure the healthy discussion of divergent opinions so essential to democracy, we urge you to ensure that the ban on Mehmedin Kitabi/Mehmet’s Book is withdrawn and that all charges are dropped against its author and publisher.

Sincerely,

Meredith Tax, President
Women’s World Organization for Rights, Literature and Development (Women’s WORLD)

An email appeal sent to the list of Women's WORLD, January 13, 2000.