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Turkish author fears for her life if she returns home

This week, when the terrorism case in which Asli Erdogan was accused came to court, she was unexpectedly acquitted © AFP/File / Daniel ROLAND

Istanbul, Turkey, Feb 16 – Exiled Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan expected to be a convicted woman by now with a life sentence hanging over her head.

The award-winning author, whose books have been translated into 21 languages, spent four months in jail in 2016 as part of a probe into a newspaper’s alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

After her release she travelled to Germany in 2017 as soon as she received her passport back. She has been in self-imposed exile ever since.

This week, when the long-running terror case in which she was accused came to court again, she was unexpectedly acquitted.

“To be honest, I was very surprised. Almost everyone took it for granted that I would be convicted,” the writer told AFP in a phone interview Sunday.

“I still cannot believe it, but if it’s not that, there will be another case,” said Erdogan — who is not related to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

An Istanbul court acquitted Erdogan on Friday of membership of an armed terrorist group and disrupting the unity of the state, while charges of spreading terror propaganda were dropped.

The writer said she had risked a life sentence just because her name was on the literary advisory list of the now-closed pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper.

The accusations “would amount to establishing an army in order to destroy the state. What’s it got to do with a newspaper?” she asked.

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She might have escaped a long jail term, but the experience has taken a toll.

In Germany she has had surgery twice for muscle paralysis of the intestine, a condition which doctors say is post-traumatic.

“At the age of 52 I encountered a disease that should occur in one’s 80s,” she said, adding that her stint in jail also played a part.

What she most longs for, however, is access to her library in Turkey.

“A 3,500-book library is my only property in the world. (Without it) I feel like my arms and legs are cut off.”

– ‘Silence prevails’ –

However, she has no plans to return home because the authorities could seize upon anything she might say to charge her with further offences, with potentially fatal consequences.

“Another arrest would mean death for me… Under the current circumstances, I cannot return given a risk of detention,” she said.

Since a failed putsch in Turkey in 2016, tens of thousands of people including academics and journalists have been arrested suspected of links to coup plotters.

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Critics accuse the president of using the coup to silence opponents but the government argues a wholesale purge is needed to rid the network of followers blamed for the failed putsch.

For the author, the political climate is worsening even though she can no longer gauge the mood for herself as she could before.

“I used to speak with grocers or witness chats in a bus or metro. That was feeding me as a writer but this channel had been cut now. But I have the impression that silence prevails in Turkey.”

She described the political system as “fascism, neo-fascism”, saying ongoing cases involving jailed author Ahmet Altan and businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala showed the situation was “well beyond dictatorship”.

She added: “I don’t know for sure what happens behind closed doors but such irrational cases have no other explanation. I see them as part of a strategy.”

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