ISTANBUL (Reuters)–An Istanbul court on Wednesday acquitted a publisher on charges that he threatened the unity of the Turkish state by publishing a book of political writings by US academic Noam Chomsky in Turkish.
The latest test of Turkey’s sometimes draconian limits on freedom of expression comes as Ankara enacts reforms designed to bring it closer to European Union membership.
A judge at the state security court dismissed the charges against Fatih Tas–22–of Aram Publishing after the prosecution reversed its stance and said the book–"American Interventionism," did not constitute "propaganda against the indivisible unity of the Turkish state."
In the book–Chomsky accuses Turkey of oppressing its Kurdish citizens.
Chomsky–who was watching in court–welcomed the decision. "The prosecutor made what was clearly the right decision. I hope that it will serve as a step towards establishing the freedom of speech in Turkey that I am sure all of us want to see realized," he said.
Tas–who said he faces another six cases against him on similar charges–told Reuters that Chomsky’s presence was a key factor in his acquittal.
He said: "If it was not for Mr. Chomsky I would have been prosecuted. But I won’t have Mr. Chomsky attending my other hearings."
Chomsky–a linguistics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology better known for his attacks on US foreign policy than his academic studies–highlighted what he said was Washington’s role in the oppression of Kurds.
"When the United States provides 80 percent of the arms for the express purpose of carrying out repression–that’s my responsibility," he told reporters outside the court.
Chomsky was later called back to the courthouse to give a statement to prosecutors preparing another case against the publishers of "Freedom of Thought 2001," a collection of essays calling for greater civil liberties.
"The intellectuals’ position in Turkey is very difficult," Chomsky said–"and–in fact–the Turkish human rights groups who are standing up for freedom of speech–for the rights of Kurds and so on–are a model for the entire world."
Chomsky is due to visit Diyarbakir on Thursday–the regional capital of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region.
Most allegations of human rights abuses against Turkey stem from the fighting that broke out in 1984.
Thousands of villages were destroyed or emptied in the southeast during fighting between Turkish security forces and Kurds. The violence has faded since Turkey captured and tried rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.