Censured academic decries Turkish repression

February 7, 2008

A political science professor convicted in Turkey of insulting the founder of the Turkish republic says his country will never be civilised unless it makes freedom of expression sacrosanct.

Atilla Yayla, a professor at Gazi University in Ankara currently working in the UK as a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham, was handed a 15-month suspended prison sentence last week for insulting the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey.

Professor Yayla, head of Turkey's Association for Liberal Thinking, was prosecuted following a speech he made in 2006 in which he said the era of one-party rule under Ataturk, 1925-45, was not as progressive as some Turks believe.

He told Times Higher Education: "This was not a legal decision, it was a political one.

"After this, it will be much more difficult to criticise the official ideology and its defenders. So rather than giving me personal harm, this is a big blow for freedom of expression in Turkey - that is my main concern.

"I am a defender of liberty and ready to pay my share in its cost. I am an academic; freedom of expression is important for everybody, but for academics it is a matter of life or death," Professor Yayla said.

"If I don't have freedom of expression that means I don't have academic freedom, so I cannot carry on my expression. I am very sad for this reason.

"Without freedom of expression for everybody in Turkey, it cannot be a civilised country."

It is a crime in Turkey to insult Ataturk, who is still revered nearly 70 years after his death. But the country, which aspires to join the European Union, is facing increasing criticism for failing to protect freedom of expression.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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