Turkey’s Culture Ministry rules out suggestions for controls on content of novels

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Friday that it would not oblige calls on social media asking the ministry to control contents of the books as this would mean censorship, Halk TV reported.

The ministry’s statement came after outrage spread on social media over a 2013 novel that contained the story of a pedophile. The sharp reaction to the extract from the novel “Zümrüt Apartment” led to the detention of its author and publisher on Wednesday. They were later released. 

Prosecutors on Friday demanded two to five years in jail over obscenity for the author, Abdullah Şevki Yurtvermez. The prosecutors are also seeking a six to 10-year sentence for the novel’s publisher. 

After the furore sprang out over Şevki’s novel, Turkish social media began sharing excerpts from books which they say encourage child abuse and perversity. The authors targeted include Elif Şafak, an internationally acclaimed novelist, and 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi.

In Turkey, the Ministry of Culture is responsible of granting tax stamps to publishers before books are published. Some in social media and the newspapers demanded that the ministry should be held accountable for allowing Şevki’s novel to be published, calling on authorities to check the contents of books before granting tax stamps.

Deputy Minister Özgül Özkan Yavuz said on Friday that the ministry could not be blamed for the contents of the book as the ministry’s responsibility is to prevent books from being published illegally to avoid taxes.

“Tax stamps cannot be expected to serve as a control mechanism on (novel’s) contents. There is no such practice anywhere in the world,” Özkan said.

“This would definitely mean censorship,” Özkan said, adding that similar mechanisms existed in Iran, China, North Korea, and Vietnam. 

Sevilay Yılman, a columnist of Habertürk news site who criticised the ministry over the novel’s publication, said on Friday that the ministry should nevertheless find a way to monitor the contents of books.

“Of course, as a journalist I am not defending censorship,” said Yılman. “But the fact that I am against censorship does not mean I will not oppose immoral acts like pedophilia and incest, which are recognised as pervasive illnesses, to be normalised under the guise of ‘literature’.”