Turkish Court Jails Playwright for 24 Years

ANKARA (Reuters)–A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced an Islamist playwright and actor to 24 years in jail for a play that allegedly insulted the country’s powerful armed forces–Anatolian news agency said.

It said the Ankara court found Mehmet Vahi Yazar guilty of "provoking hatred by highlighting class–racial or religious differences between people" in his play–"An Enemy of God." Four other members of the cast received 16 years in prison on the same charge–often used to prosecute Islamist politicians or journalists.

A performance of the play last year in the eastern province of Erzurum outraged secular authorities who said the drama encouraged revolt by portraying the military as an obstacle to the establishment of a state based on Islamic Sharia law.

Turkey’s armed forces have inspired a judicial crackdown on political Islam since forcing the collapse of modern Turkey’s first Islamist-led government last year.

The generals say it is their duty to protect overwhelmingly Moslem Turkey’s secularist constitution.

Turkish state religious authorities are to take control of some 180 privately run mosques as part of a new anti-Islamist law demanded by the military–the agency said.

Secularists accuse private mosques of being centers of religious activism aimed against the state.

"There are 180 mosques owned by individuals or organizations. These shall be brought under the control of the department of religious affairs within three months," the agency quoted the department head–Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz–as saying.

Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz’s secularist coalition passed the law in parliament shortly before it broke up for a two-month summer recess last week.

The move against unregistered mosques was part of a raft of legislation demanded by Turkey’s generals to clamp down on Islamists.

The current government was pressed to get tougher on Islamists after the military top brass accused it of going soft on Islamic activism earlier this year.

Meanwhile another court in Istanbul has imprisoned a pro-Kurdish newspaper cartoonist for more than three years for insulting the state in drawings published in two now defunct dailies–journalists said on Tuesday.

They said cartoonist Dogan Guzel had been jailed on Monday for "insulting and degrading" the Turkish republic.

The Ulkede Gundem paper said courts had objected to Guzel’s frequent use of a slang swear word in a cartoon strip he drew for two Kurdish papers–which closed several years ago under pressure from legal authorities.

The Paris-based media rights group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) condemned the incarceration of Guzel and called for his release in a letter to Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz faxed to Reuters.

Human rights activists say Turkey has one of the world’s worst records for imprisoning journalists under its wide-ranging "anti-terror" laws aimed at quashing dissent on the country’s Kurdish conflict.


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