Frankfurt book fair opens with plea to free Turkish novelist


Frankfurt (AFP)

The Frankfurt book fair opened Tuesday with a plea for Turkey to release acclaimed author and rights activist Asli Erdogan, jailed along with other journalists in a post-coup crackdown.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, in a speech at the annual fair's opening ceremony, said he stood in "full solidarity" with the novelist, "and all authors and journalists languishing in Turkish jails".

"Hear my clear appeal to the Turkish government: set these people free," he said.

At the same ceremony, the head of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association Heinrich Riethmueller read out a letter from Erdogan he said had been smuggled out of her Istanbul prison.

"I cry out to you from behind stones, concrete and barbed wire," he quoted her as saying. "Conscience is being trampled upon in my country... they are trying to kill off truth."

Riethmueller urged the European Commission and the German government to press for her release, and said visitors to the fair would be able to sign a petition calling for her freedom.

Erdogan was arrested on August 16 and remains in jail pending trial for writing articles for a pro-Kurdish newspaper, which the government says has ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Some 20 journalists were detained along with her, a month after the failed July 15 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which led to a purge within state institutions.

The 49-year-old writer is accused of being a member of an illegal organisation as well as publishing "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and for "incitement to disorder", her lawyer told AFP last month.

Erdogan's novels have been translated into several languages and her latest book, "The Stone Building", describes the difficulties of detention in Turkey.

The five-day Frankfurt fair, which opens to the public on Wednesday, is the world's largest publishing event.