ISTANBUL (Reuters)–A Turkish court dropped criminal charges against best-selling author Orhan Pamuk on Monday–a defense lawyer said–in a case which has raised questions about freedom of speech in Turkey.
The case had also cast a shadow over Turkey’s drive to join the European Union and diplomats said the decision to drop the charges of insulting Turkish identity would be viewed positively in Brussels.
"The court has decided to drop the case. There will not be a hearing… because there is no need for that," lawyer Haluk Inanici said.
Pamuk was charged under article 301 of a new penal code–which forbids insulting Turkish identity.
He upset Turkish nationalists by telling a Swiss newspaper last year that nobody dared mention the killing of a million Armenia’s in Turkey during World War One or 30,000 Kurds in recent decades.
Media reports said the justice ministry had told the court it had no authority under Turkey’s revised penal code to order the Pamuk case to go ahead. The ministry and court officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Istanbul court adjourned Pamuk’s trial shortly after it began on December 16 and asked the justice ministry for a legal opinion on whether he could be tried under the new penal code. The next hearing was to be held on February 7.
The EU has said the case raises concerns over freedom of speech in Turkey–which last October began what are expected to be lengthy membership talks with the wealthy 25-nation bloc.
"It is good the case has apparently been dropped–but the justice ministry never took a clear position or gave any sign of trying to defend Pamuk," said one Ankara-based EU diplomat.
The diplomat noted that other writers–journalists and academics still face charges similar to Pamuk’s under Article 301 but their fate remains unclear.
"The decision does not clear the doubts we have about the government’s commitment to reforms–but at least it gets out of the way a case which had been very damaging to Turkey’s image," the diplomat said.
If convicted Pamuk–53–could have faced up to three years in jail–although similar prosecutions in the past have more often resulted in fines–acquittals–or reprieves.
He is best known for his novels "My Name Is Red,"The White Castle,"Snow," and "Istanbul: Memories and the City."