PEN International and the International Publishers Association (IPA) protest the decision taken by an Istanbul court on Thursday postponing the trial against publishers and translators of the Turkish editions of William Burroughs’ The Soft Machine and Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff until 2015. They were also warned that further ‘obscene’ works that they publish in the meantime will be added to their cases.

The decision taken at Çağlayan Courts of Justice on 5 July 2012, was met with shock and outrage. Most observers had been expecting the trial to follow the usual pattern of Turkish ‘obscenity’ trials: a report compiled by a panel of academics declaring a novel as ‘literature’, prompting an acquittal from the judge. Indeed, one of the publishers on trial – Irfan Sancı of Sel Publishing House – had been acquitted of seven ‘obscenity’ trials previous to this one, following the delivery of favourable expert opinion. Despite the presence of just such an expert report yesterday, the judge revealed that he was obliged by law to postpone the trial for three years due to new legislation ratified the night before.

The judgement pronounced at the hearing comes after a new law ratified the previous night: ‘Temporary Article 1’ of Law 6352 holds that any trial of a pre-2012 ‘press offence’ will be delayed for three years as new laws are drafted to address such offences.

Sel Publishing House (publishers of The Soft Machine) has described the provision that any further ‘press offences’ committed in the meantime will be added to these postponed cases as ‘the sword of Damocles’. However, Sel Owner Irfan Sancı defiantly added that Sel would not be deterred and that they would continue to publish such books. This stance was reiterated by the owner of Ayrıntı Publishing House (publishers of Snuff) Hasan Basri Çıplak, who presented the judge presiding over Thursday’s trial with two of his newest publications, which are also novels by Burroughs and Palahniuk.

PEN International and IPA are deeply concerned by the implications of the new law on publishers in Turkey. Not only does it elongate an already lengthy judicial process, it also intimidates publishers, and indeed any others who may consider publishing, by delivering them a direct warning that any subsequent works will be prosecuted.

Sel Publishing House underlined the arbitrariness of such a decision in a tweet sent out during the trial:

This means that if the hearing had happened last week we would have been acquitted, now it’s going to be postponed for 3 years, while it’s inevitable that we will commit the ‘same crime’.

Both publishing houses are known for publishing challenging works. Sel, for example, have been tried and acquitted of obscenity seven times in recent years; most recently in 2010, when Sel were tried for publishing several books in translation including Guillaume Apollionaire’s Adventures of the Young Don Juan. For more background information on these two cases see the IPA Press Release.

Also, see blog piece by Sara Whyatt, Deputy Director of the Writers in Prison Committee at PEN International, who observed the trial in Istanbul.