Turkish court convicts journalist for criticizing Quran class ban, suspends sentence

ISTANBUL, Turkey - A court sentenced a Turkish journalist Wednesday to a suspended prison term of one year and eight months, for criticizing the closing down of Quran courses for primary-school students.

The court found writer and journalist Abdurrahman Dilipak guilty of abusing freedom of expression and inciting religious hatred in an article he wrote criticizing the ban on primary-students attending Quran courses. The article was published in a weekly magazine two years ago.

Compulsory primary education in Turkey was extended from five to eight years in August 1997. Students attending primary schools are not allowed to attend any other courses, including the Quran courses.

"This ban on students is a clear war on religion," said Dilipak. He faces prison if he is convicted of a similar crime during the period of the suspended sentence.

Dilipak is the latest journalist to be convicted under laws that severely curb freedom of expression, and have led to the imprisonment of numerous writers and journalists. Many of them were charged with inciting hatred based on ethnic or religious differences.

The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, is pressing Turkey to abolish the restrictive laws.

Earlier this year, parliament passed reforms that allow wider freedom of expression and reduced prison sentences for certain offenses. The EU said the reforms did not go far enough.

In his final defense, Dilipak told the court that he should not be punished for writing the article.

"I am exercising my constitutional rights," said Dilipak. "Punishing me will not benefit the society."

Dilipak said he would appeal the verdict.