Witches of Smyrna’ Causes Stir in Turkey Prosecutor Brews Case against Publisher

Turkish prosecutor sues over ‘insulting’ book by Greek novelist

ISTANBUL (BBC/News World Communications/Shanghai Daily)–An Istanbul editor is to appear in court for publishing a novel by a Greek author that prosecutors say is insulting to the Turkish nation–a spokeswoman for the publishing company said on Wednesday.

Abdullah Yildiz of Literatur publishers risks up to three years in jail for "denigrating the Turkish national identity" by publishing "The Witches of Smyrna" by Greek novelist Mara Meimaridi–Eylem Ozcimen–the spokeswoman–said.

The novel–which is in its 25th printing since it appeared in Turkish in October 2004–tells the story of a Greek woman who uses magic spells to find suitors and climbs the social ladder in the western Turkish city of Izmir (Smyrna in Greek) during the last years of Ottoman rule.

The book–which sold nearly 50,000 copies in Turkey and about 100,000 in Greece–also details the daily life and various ethnic communities of the city and describes the Turkish quarters as dirty and the Turks lacking in oral hygiene. The book is also being made into a film.

"We were very surprised by the lawsuit because the book has been on sale for more than a year," Ozcimen’said. "We informed the author and she told us she had no intention of insulting the Turks and did not have a hostile attitude to Turks."

The first hearing is expected to start in April–reports say.

The charges against Yildiz are the same as those against Turkish author Orhan Pamuk and Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in controversial cases that have been strongly criticized by the European Union–which Turkey is seeking to join.

Pamuk is accused of insulting Turks in remarks published in February in a Swiss magazine about massacres of Armenia’s during the Genocide and Dink was given a six-month suspended sentence in October for a newspaper article that the court deemed insulting to the Turkish nation.

The European Union has described the Pamuk case as a litmus test of Turkey’s eligibility to join–warning that it is Ankara–rather than Pamuk–that will be on trial.

But Turkey’s justice minister said yesterday that the government has no immediate plans to amend current laws–even under pressure by the EU to do more to protect freedom of expression.

"If we’re going to make changes to the laws according to your or my understanding then there will be no stability left in the judiciary," Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said in Ankara. "It would also damage the unity of the laws."

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