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Turkish court bans Dawkins' website

Squawking over Dawkins

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Comment Once upon a time, it took a Pope or a Stalinist dictator like, um, Stalin to have scientific discourse banned by decree. Nowadays, however, it merely takes a large and influential publishing house, and the agreement of Turkey’s criminal court of peace.

So it is that the website of leading UK biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins may no longer be accessed in Asia Minor.

The story begins with the publication in 2006 of the Atlas of Creation, an 870-page rejection of evolution by Turkish author Adnan Oktar.

Oktar, who writes under the pen name of Harun Yahya, is no stranger to controversy. He has used the Turkish courts before, most recently when he attempted earlier this year to have Dawkins' book The God Delusion banned in Turkey on the basis that it was insulting religion. That case was thrown out.

In August 2007, however, he succeeded in blocking access to millions of blogs using the Wordpress.com hosting service after finding that a number of them carried libellous comments.

In May, he was found guilty of creating an illegal organization for personal gain and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He is appealing the decision.

This latest action appears to follow comments made by Richard Dawkins on his website, describing the book as "preposterous". He added that he was at "a loss to reconcile the expensive and glossy production values of this book with the 'breathtaking inanity' of the content.

"Is it really inanity, or is it just plain laziness – or perhaps cynical awareness of the ignorance and stupidity of the target audience – mostly Muslim creationists."

According to Oktar, he and his book 'Atlas of Creation' have been defamed by these and other comments in similar vein.

His press assistant, Seda Aral, added: "We are not against freedom of speech or expression but you cannot insult people.

"We found the comments hurtful. It was not a scientific discussion. There was a line and the limit has been passed.

"We have used all the legal means to stop this site. We asked them to remove the comments but they did not."

Turk Telekom is now blocking access to Richard Dawkins site and Turkish internet users seeking the site are redirected to a page that says in Turkish "access to this site has been suspended in accordance with a court decision".

One irony of this action is that Oktar benefits greatly from a freedom to publish that he appears unwilling to extend to others. He has used hundreds of books, pamphlets and DVDS to contest Darwin's theory of evolution, and has recently been embroiled in controversy for distributing thousands of copies of the Atlas of Creation to schools in a number of European countries.

Before we pat ourselves too smugly on the back, we should recall recent events in the UK. The Daily Mail is fond of publicising details of individuals investigated by police for the various new "phobia" offences ("homophobia", for instance). Many of these are no more than a storm in a teacup, but they reveal a worrying trend in our own psyche - and it is just two years since a victory by just one vote pulled the teeth of the Government’s much-vaunted Religious Hatred Bill.

As it is, we now have a law that can be used against individuals who use threatening language that is targeted on the basis of religion.

Had that vote ended differently, we would now be living in a land in which anyone could be sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for the crime of using insulting language, even if the insult was unintended and what you said was based on truth. Far from laughing at the absurdity of the Turkish courts, we would now be reading about the arrest of Richard Dawkins and his impending prosecution in the UK for religious hatred.

A narrow escape? ®

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