Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is under investigation by the Turkish state for “insulting” the founder of modern Turkey and ridiculing the Turkish flag in his new novel The Nights of the Plague.

Pamuk, who denies the charges, published the book in Turkey in March. Set on a fictional Ottoman island during a bubonic plague outbreak in the early 1900s, the first complaint against it was filed in April, when a lawyer accused Pamuk of inciting “hatred and animosity. By insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and ridiculing the flag of Turkey. In work. An Istanbul court decided not to proceed with the claim due to lack of evidence, but the lawyer who brought the case, Tarcan Ülük, appealed the decision and the investigation was reopened.

Pamuk had already been prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” after having mentioned the murders of Armenians and Kurds in 1915 in an interview. These charges were dropped in 2006 – the same year Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature, hailed as an author who “in search of the melancholy soul of his hometown discovered new symbols for shock and interweaving of cultures ”.

Law 5816, under which Pamuk is currently under investigation, aims to protect “the memory of Ataturk” from the insults of any Turkish citizen. If convicted, Pamuk faces up to three years in prison.

In a statement to Bianet, Pamuk denied the latest accusations. “In Nights of Plague, which I worked on for five years, there is no disrespect for the heroic founders of nation-states built on the ashes of empires or for Atatürk. On the contrary, the novel was written with respect and admiration for these libertarian and heroic leaders, ”he said.

He was supported by free speech organizations around the world, who urged authorities not to prosecute him. “Orhan Pamuk is Turkey’s national treasure, a literary asset whose words resonate around the world and should be celebrated as such, but he finds himself once again targeted for his writings,” said the president of PEN International Burhan Sönmez. “Turkish authorities have repeatedly used criminal defamation laws to silence those who dare to speak out, and this case is no exception.

“These baseless accusations have already been dismissed by the courts,” added Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of endangered free speech programs at PEN America. “The reopening of the investigation, despite the lack of evidence and [the] the court’s initial decision not to prosecute, highlights the general climate of repression against writers in Turkey and shows how the legal system allows appalling authoritarian restrictions on freedom of expression and creativity.

According to PEN America, at least 25 writers were jailed last year by the Turkish government, the third highest number in the world. The Turkish Publishers Association also called on prosecutors to drop the investigation. “Court cases like this place a huge burden on the time and resources of publishers and writers, creating an atmosphere of threat and tension,” he said. in a report translated by Bianet. “Such interference, which turns into de facto book bans, undermines the principle of a democratic society and we call on the authorities to take concrete measures to immediately end the investigation.

Daniel Gorman, Director of UK PEN, said: “The fact that an investigation has been launched highlights the severe restrictions on freedom of expression faced by writers in Turkey today. We urge the Turkish authorities to drop the charges against him and we continue to campaign against the Turkish government’s ongoing attempts to silence writers. “