European court rules against Turkey over erotic novel

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled that Turkey had prevented public access to Europe’s literary heritage and violated freedom of expression when it banned a classic erotic novel.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled in favour of a petition from publisher Rahmi Akdas, who in 1999 printed a Turkish translation of French writer Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1907 novel “The Eleven Thousand Rods,” which has passages on sadism, homosexuality, paedophilia and necrophilia.

Akdas was convicted of morality crimes and fined about 1,100 euros ($1,500) and an order was issued to destroy all copies of the book. A Turkish appeals court later upheld the conviction but struck down the destruction order.

Turkey has revised laws covering freedom of speech to bring them more in line with European Union standards as it seeks to advance its bid to join the bloc, but still censors books and websites and occasionally jails journalists for their writings.

The European court said in its ruling that states can legally interfere to protect morals if there is a pressing social need, but no such need was present in Akdas’ case since a century had elapsed since “The Eleven Thousand Rods” first appeared and it is now part of Europe’s literary canon.

“The Eleven Thousand Rods” was banned in France until 1970.

“The heavy fine imposed and the seizure of copies of the book had not been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued (to protect morals) and had thus not been necessary in a democratic society,” the ruling said.

The court cited Article 10 on free speech in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Turkey ranks 123 out of 175 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2009 Press Freedom Index.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) last month said Turkey has failed to preserve free speech by banning some 3,700 websites sometimes for “arbitrary or political” reasons.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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