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Novelist goes on trial in Turkey after 132 days in prison

The trial of Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan for alleged terror ties has begun after 132 days in detention. Despite severe illnesses, Erdogan is focusing on her defense, her mother and her lawyer both told DW.

The home of prize-winning Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan was raided on August 16. She was arrested and detained for membership of a terrorist organization and "undermining national unity" because she was on the advisory board of "Özgür Gündem," a pro-Kurdish newspaper that was closed by court order on the grounds that it was spreading propaganda for the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

On December 29, Erdogan, who received a graduate degree at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and a PhD in physics before becoming a writer, will give her defense for the first time on the charges filed against her in an Istanbul court.

Speaking to DW, Ozcan Kilic, one of Erdogan's attorneys, said that his client was focusing on the trial and had prepared a very strong defense.

Erdogan's mother Mine Aydostlu added, "Even though my daughter's health problems continue, she's trying to withstand prison conditions. We have to endure this unjust trial, we have no other choice."

Acclaimed Turkish linguist and writer Necmiye Alpay, who was arrested along with Erdogan, is also being tried, though the prosecutor has since dropped the two women's "undermining national unity" charges, raising hopes that she may be released pending trial.

Türkei Protest gegen Verfolgung von Journalisten der Zeitung Özgür Gündem (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna)

Several journalists of the "Özgür Gündem" newspaper were persecuted

Now for the first time the pair will present their defense before a panel of three judges and a prosecutor. According to Turkish law, the prosecutor may ask for a jail sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years for Erdogan and the 70-year-old Alpay.

Erdogan "knows how important this is," said Kilic. "That's why we expect her to produce a very strong defense." Kilic added that Alpay was also feeling good and preparing for the trial.

Health problems

Suffering from several chronic illnesses, 49-year-old Erdogan's condition has been a concern since her arrest. Utku Cakirozer, a parliamentarian for the Social Democrat CHP party who visited imprisoned writers in December, said there was a risk that Asli Erdogan may become paralyzed. He added that she had been taken to hospital four times but was returned to prison each time without seeing a doctor.

Cakirozer brought the general problems he saw during his prison visit to the attention of parliament by addressing an official question to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag.

Meanwhile, after visiting Erdogan in prison, her mother said that her daughter's health problems were continuing and that she was worried about the cold conditions inside the prison.

Türkei Polizisten wegen Umsturzversuchs vor Gericht (Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose)

More and more journalists are being imprisoned in Turkey

Erdogan suffers from circulatory disorder, pancreatic enzyme deficiency, herniated cervical discs, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Aydostlu said her daughter needed to be on a special diet, but that wasn't possible because of the prison conditions. "Despite all these difficulties, she's more focused on preparing her defense," she said. "This is an unjust trial, it's completely political."

'The government doesn't want dissent'

Support campaigns for Erdogan continue domestically as well as internationally. An article titled "Vigil for Peace," by writer, Murat Uyurkulak, is one such article supporting Erdogan.

"Before the June 7 elections a writer being thrown into jail for being an adviser to a newspaper was unheard of," he told DW. "What has happened to Asli Erdogan is a sign of the fascist regime being cemented step by step." He added that anyone in Turkey could be arrested for any excuse.

"The war in Syria and the fear of refugees in Europe is paving the way for this regime," he said. "The government doesn't want any dissenting voices. But the people who want democracy, freedom and peace aren't sitting on their hands either. As outsiders, we must protest louder and be more organized now."

Erdogan's fırst novel was published in 1994 and her short story "Wooden Birds" received a prize from DW in 1997. Named one of the 50 most promising authors by French literary magazine "Lire," her works have been translated into 15 languages. 

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