Today, a brilliant writer called Orhan Pamuk goes on trial in Turkey.

Orhan PamukHis novels include the astonishing My Name Is Red, Istanbul and The Black Book. He is undoubtedly the most internationally renowned living Turkish novelist.

Pamuk was prosecuted by the Turkish authorities because he mentioned in a media interview the slaughter of Armenians and Kurds by his own country.

According to Turkey, these deaths were not genocide and Pamuk has committed a crime by suggesting they were. The crime is classified in Turkish law as “insulting the country”.

Pamuk repeated his claims in October when collecting a German peace prize. His trial date was already in the court timetable by then. That “let them see” strategy drew European attention to the case and now an intense media scrutiny has fallen on Turkey and its attitude towards human rights.

The political background to this case is significant. Turkey wants desperately to join the European Union. Many sections of the existing EU feel it should not join. Some commentators think this unwelcoming behaviour is plain old anti-Islamic prejudice. Some blame Turkey’s poor human rights record for the chilly reception. It’s probably a combination of both.

Europeans are notoriously disapproving of what could be seen to be heavy-handed draconian tactics. So Orhan Pamuk’s trial in Turkey may well have a strong effect on European public opinion. The authorities may decide to be lenient to reduce resistance to the bigger economic prize of EU membership. Or they may decide to make a high profile example of him. It’s impossible to say. But it will have long lasting political implications, whichever way the judgment goes.

Outside the framework of social context, this is the story of one artist’s right to free speech. Those of us who support that cause will be with him all the way. Orhan Pamuk, stick to your guns. Turkey, think carefully. We will be watching.

UPDATE: The trial has just been suspended for the time being, minutes after starting. Turkey is buying time to find a way out of this PR disaster, perhaps…