Erdogan vs. writers: Turkey Nobel Laureate backs veteran writer, Murat Belge
ISTANBUL (Turkey) - Turkey's internationally-acclaimed novelist Orhan Pamuk on Tuesday backed a fellow writer on trial for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying the mounting number of such cases was aimed at intimidating the government's opponents.
In a show of solidarity, Pamuk, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, attended the Istanbul trial of Murat Belge, who faces up to four years in jail on charges of insulting Erdogan in a 2015 column published in the opposition Taraf daily.
Erdogan's lawyer was also present at the court hearing, which coincided with World Press Freedom Day.
Pamuk was quoted by Dogan news agency as saying he had been reading the columns of veteran writer Belge for almost 50 years and had "learnt a lot from him".
He expressed dismay over the mounting number of insult cases which he said were taking aim at "free thought in order to silence, intimidate and deter" opponents of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
"I have been writing for 40 years. I am fed up with appearing at the gates of courts, defending my friends and my own cases," said the author of modern classics like "My Name is Red" and "The Museum of Innocence".
Pamuk himself landed in court in 2005 after he spoke in a newspaper interview about the 1915 killings of Armenians and the deaths of Kurds in Turkish military operations in the 1980s against the rebel PKK.
He faced up to three years in jail for denigrating Turkish identity, before an Istanbul court abandoned the charges in 2006.
"They're talking about new Turkey. Here's the new Turkey, the continuation of the old one. Writers at the gates of the courts," Pamuk said.
Almost 2,000 people including ordinary citizens, students and journalists have been prosecuted for "insulting" Erdogan since the former premier became president in August 2014.
In his hearing, Belge dismissed the charges about the column he wrote in September last year about the election process.
He said he had been writing for half a century but it was the first time he stood on trial for insulting someone.
"I've joined one of the most crowded clubs of Turkey. The club of those insulting Tayyip Erdogan," he said.
The cases have raised concerns over freedom of expression in a country hoping to join the European Union and increased controversy over a deal where Turkey will be given visa-free travel in exchange for halting the flow of migrants to Europe.