January 8, 2013

Turkey lifts ban on thousands of books


A Turkish bookstore

This weekend an important legal change came quietly into effect in Turkey, meaning that 23,000 books banned over the course of decades can now be printed freely.

In July, Turkish parliament adopted a bill stating that any book bans imposed before 2012 would be lifted unless a court stepped forward to uphold the banning within six months. The censorship in question has been implemented over a long period, by different institutions and in different cities, so there’s no one central body responsible for repealing or supporting it. One city prosecutor in Ankara reported last month that all bans in his jurisdiction would be lifted, but other officials have been more quiet. The passage of the January 5th deadline without any challenge means that works like The Communist Manifesto will now legally be available in the country for the first time.

True, in practice these laws were not closely observed, and many of the books on the banned list were already being printed in Turkey — but this is more than a symbolic victory. The Australian reports that carrying a book on the banned list often served as a pretext for detaining students and demonstrators in prison after a protest, meaning that those in power now have one less means of punishing legitimate protest. That’s a welcome change, given Turkey’s record on freedom of expression: the country has more journalists in prison than any other, at forty-nine to Iran‘s forty-five and China‘s thirty-two, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The situation for writers in Turkey is so bad that PEN launched an appeal on their behalf late last year — read more here.



Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.