A voice of conscience challenges her censors

Speaking one’s mind can be a liability in Turkey, especially if the powerful military authorities are the target of one’s criticism. For Perihan Magden, one of Turkey’s most prominent writers and controversial columnists, a recent article defending an imprisoned conscientious objector and proposing alternatives to military service (like community service or teaching positions) could cost her three years in jail. In a rare move, the traditionally reserved Grand National Assembly reacted to the piece, published in the weekly news magazine Yeni Aktuel in December, by lodging legal charges against Magden for «discouraging people from performing military service.» The action triggered a wave of support for the 45-year-old writer in Turkey’s literary world, with virtually every newspaper commentator writing articles in her defense. A few days after her appearance in court, Magden spoke to Kathimerini English Edition about the constraints and contradictions of a European Union candidate state governed by an Islam-rooted government but still strongly influenced by the military guardians of Turkey’s modern secularist tradition. Speaking by telephone from her Istanbul home, Magden spoke about the military’s influence on Turkish society, the obstacles to Ankara’s EU bid, the restrictions faced by women in Turkey and a new penal code which has left press commentators and satirists little room for maneuver.

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