COURT ACQUITS TURKISH ARCHAELOGIST
CHARGED FOR HER VIEWS ON HEAD SCARVES
Updated 11/1/2006 12:37 PM ET –USA TODAY
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A court on Wednesday tried and immediately acquitted a 92-year-old archaeologist for claiming in a book that Islamic-style head scarves were first worn more than 5,000 years ago by priestesses initiating young men into sex.
The case is one of dozens brought against writers and academics for expressing opinions — and again raises questions about whether Turkey is ready to embrace European values on freedom of expression.
In a trial that lasted less than an hour, the court in Istanbul acquitted Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, an expert on the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotomia of around third millennium B.C., and her publisher of charges of insulting religious feelings. The panel of three judges ruled that Cig's actions did not constitute a crime.
The diminutive, staunchly pro-secular former academic, who was born in 1914 — the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and the start of World War I — was the latest person to go on trial in Turkey for expressing her views, despite intense European Union pressure on the country to expand freedom of expression.
She joins a long list of writers, journalists and academics who have been prosecuted, including this year's Nobel prize-winner, Orhan Pamuk, and novelist Elif Shafak, although Cig was prosecuted on different charges to the other two authors.
Charges of insulting Turkishness against Pamuk were dropped over a technicality earlier this year, and Shafak was acquitted.
Those two were tried under Turkey's now infamous Article 301, which sets out punishment for insulting the Turkish Republic, its officials or "Turkishness." Cig was accused of inciting hatred by insulting people based on their religion.
Cig faced 1 1/2 years in prison had she been convicted.
The trial came a week before a EU report assessing Turkey's progress toward membership, which is expected to chide the country for slipping in its reform program and not acting to change laws that have been used to curb freedoms — in violation of EU human rights standards.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is resisting change, arguing that no one so far has ended up in prison for expressing opinions despite the trials.
Critics say the trials and threat of prosecution act as a deterrent to free speech and are unacceptable.
Cig's trial was initiated by an Islamic-oriented lawyer who was offended by claims made in her recently published political work, "My Reactions as a Citizen," in which she says that the earliest examples of head scarves date back to Sumerian times, when veils were worn by priestesses who engaged in sex to distinguish themselves from other priestesses.
Cig rejected the charge in court saying: "I am a woman of science. ... I never insulted anyone," private NTV television reported. Twenty-five lawyers crammed into the small courtroom to defend her.
In what some said was a move to avoid endangering Turkey's EU bid, the prosecution supported dropping the charge, saying Cig's actions had not in any way "endangered public safety." It is not unusual for the prosecution to drop or change charges in the course of a trial.
The judges then acquitted Cig and publisher Ismet Ogutucu of the Kaynak publishing house.
Secular groups who turned out to the trial in a show of support celebrated the acquittal, with cheers and applause.
"Live for a thousand years," one supporter cheered, according to an Anatolia news agency report. The former academic, who retired in 1972 and has written 13 books, responded by asking supporters to continue promoting secularism when she is gone.
Cig gained public attention earlier this year when she wrote to Emine Erdogan, asking the Turkish first lady to remove her head scarf and set an example to women in this predominantly Muslim and secular country. Turkey has strict secular laws and regulations that bar head scarves in schools and in public offices.
An increasing number of women however are veiling themselves in a show of religious piety to the dismay of secularists who view the head scarf as a symbol of political Islam and of female oppression.
Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey's Islamic movement, has made no secret of his desire to relax the laws on head scarves. Cautious of sensitivities of pro-secular circles, including the powerful military, however, he has said that he would wait until the time was right.
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