Turkish court maintains top novelist's travel ban

Fulya OZERKAN
Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan was released from jail in December 2016

A Turkish court on Tuesday kept a foreign travel ban in place against a top novelist charged with "terror propaganda" in a controversial case that has intensified concerns over freedom of speech.

The Istanbul court maintained the restriction on Asli Erdogan, who was released from jail last December but remains on trial, despite her pleas to be allowed to leave Turkey temporarily.

"I am asking for the removal of the overseas travel ban temporarily, so that I can participate in award ceremonies abroad," she told the court.

Erdogan, 49, was initially 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).

Her detention sparked an international outcry, with critics saying freedom of expression has been drastically curtailed in Turkey following the crackdown in the wake of 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 face life imprisonment.

The next hearing is due on June 22.

"She is an author and receiving a lot of awards," her lawyer Erdal Dogan told the court, saying ceremonies were planned in Vienna, Amsterdam and Stuttgart.

"Writers and journalists are peace envoys," he said, adding that her participation could help alleviate Turkey's mounting tensions with several European countries including Germany and the Netherlands.

- 'Against dialogue' -

Erdogan expressed deep disappointment at the ruling, saying she would not be able to attend the award ceremonies in Europe.

She is among the laureates of the 2017 Princess Margriet Award for Culture and the prize winners are due to receive their award in Amsterdam on May 9, Europe Day.

"It is a European prize given to a writer whose country is not a member of the European Union. Turkey in a way refused the little flower that was handed to us," Erdogan told AFP.

"I guess this is in a way a symbolic answer against dialogue and reunification," she said of the ruling.

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

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