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Turkish Blasphemy Trial Begins Against French-Turkish Author

ISTANBUL, May 26 (Reuters) -- Turkish-French author Nedim Gursel has gone on trial charged by the state with insulting Islam in his book "The Daughters of Allah."

Court cases against writers and academics have hampered Turkey's bid to join the European Union, which has urged it to guarantee freedom of speech.

Gursel's lawyer, Sehnaz Yuzer, said the charges against her client -- insulting religion and endangering security through inciting hatred -- were based on characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad and his family in the book.

But Gursel, who faces between one and three years in jail if found guilty, said the passages cited by authorities were not present in the novel.

"The book has been out for a year," he told Reuters by telephone. "It's reached 30,000 people -- where is the hatred it has incited? Where is the anger?"

Unusually, Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, responsible for the activities of mosques and the teaching of theology, intervened in the trial with testimony against the defendant.

"We are hoping for an acquittal, but what is really worrisome in this case is the Religious Affairs Directorate's report against me," Gursel said. "The directorate has no place to say how a book should be written."

In the May 26 hearing, the court combined two separate cases against Gursel, one opened in March and the other in August.

Rights groups have criticized limits on freedom of speech in Turkey, which is predominantly Muslim but officially secular.

"The trial against Nedim Gursel is one more example of the continuing suppression of freedom of expression in Turkey," the activist group PEN said previously in a statement.

It said his trial brought Turkey into direct conflict with its obligations to protect freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Few of the cases brought against writers or journalists have resulted in prison sentences.

Nobel Literature Prize winner Orhan Pamuk went on trial for "insulting Turkishness" when he told a Swiss magazine that Turkey was responsible for the deaths of 30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians, but his case was dropped.

Gursel, who has French citizenship and lives in Paris, traveled to Istanbul for the start of his trial. His next hearing is on June 25.