Turkey lifts foreign travel ban on charged novelist

Fulya OZERKAN
Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan talks to media outside Istanbul's courthouse after ban on foreign travel was lifted

A Turkish court on Thursday lifted a foreign travel ban imposed on one of the country's leading contemporary novelists after she was put on trial on charges of supporting "terror" groups.

The move by the Istanbul court will allow Asli Erdogan to travel abroad and receive prizes she had been unable to collect due to the ban.

However she remains on trial on charges of "terror propaganda" for outlawed Kurdish groups, in a case denounced by freedom of expression groups. The next hearing is due on October 31, her lawyer Erdal Dogan told AFP.

Erdogan, 50, was arrested last summer and held for 132 days on terror propaganda charges during a probe into the now-closed Ozgur Gundem newspaper, which Ankara condemned as a mouthpiece for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

She was released in December but the charges were kept in place and the travel ban maintained until now.

The travel ban of the prominent Turkish translator Necmiye Alpay, 70, who is on trial in the same case, was also lifted.

Erdogan, speaking to journalists outside the Istanbul court, welcomed the travel ban lifting as a "positive step" but slammed the continuation of the case.

"I have been writing for 18 years and no crime has been found in any of my writings," she said.

She said anyone could face similar experiences in Turkey.

"They make us understand that in this country every journalist, every lawyer, every politician could find themselves in prison before sunrise or after sunset," Erdogan said.

"That's a heavy trauma we've been exposed to," she added.

- 'I am struggling'-

The novelist's detention sparked an international outcry and amplified concern over freedom of expression after last July's failed coup, which sought to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

She was charged over three articles written for Ozgur Gundem last year on the situation in the Kurdish-majority southeast, where Turkish armed forces are battling the PKK, which is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

If convicted, Erdogan -- no relation to the president -- could still face life imprisonment.

"There's only one thing that I know. I am innocent. I am forced to pay a price just because I expressed my opinion in the name of freedom of thought," Erdogan said.

She however admitted that her mind would not be at ease until the case was concluded.

"I haven't overcome the trauma yet," she said. "I am struggling because it's the first time in my life I have been on trial."

Lawyer Dogan said Erdogan still needed approval of the interior ministry to leave Turkey as passports in terror-related cases had been confiscated or annulled under the state of emergency imposed after the July 15 failed coup.

Erdogan has published several well-received novels including "The City in Crimson Cloak", which has been translated into English.

She was among the laureates of the 2017 Princess Margriet Award for Culture, but was unable to attend the awards ceremony in Amsterdam on May 9 due to the travel ban.