ANKARA (Guardian Unlimited)-A Political science professor who criticized the legacy of Turkey’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence Monday.
One of the founding fathers of the Turkish liberal movement, Atilla Yayla was convicted of insulting the soldier-statesman by a court in the western port city of Izmir. The academic, who is teaching in Britain and did not attend the trial, heard he would be monitored for the next two years.
"Atilla Yayla is a prominent intellectual in our country and basically this judgment silences him," his lawyer, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, told the Guardian. "It also closes the door on any sensible discussion about Ataturk, who in reality is widely demonized by certain groups behind closed doors in Turkey."
In a November 2006 panel discussion, Atilla explained that Ataturk’s one-party rule was not as progressive as portrayed in the official history books. He also suggested, "so long after his death, foreign visitors might be baffled by the ubiquitous portraits and statues of Ataturk around the country."
The academic, who was fired from his post at Ankara’s Gazi University before being reinstated in the uproar that ensured, has signaled he will appeal the verdict.
Turkey has drawn widespread criticism from the EU for restrictions on freedom of expression. Under the country’s infamous law 301, countless journalists, academics and intellectuals, including the Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted for acts deemed to "insult Turkishness". Turkey’s Islamic-leaning government, which is pressing for the country to join the EU, has repeatedly pledged to amend the law, although critics say its proposed changes do not go far enough.