( AP ) - A political science professor was convicted Monday of insulting the revered founder of modern Turkey and given a 15-month suspended prison sentence, a news report said.
Atilla Yayla, a professor at Gazi University in Ankara and head of the Association for Liberal Thinking, was convicted of insulting the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Dogan news agency said.
It is a crime in Turkey to insult Ataturk, the man who founded secular, modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and is still revered here nearly 70 years after his death.
Yayla's conviction comes as Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union, faces criticism for failing to protect freedom of expression. Several prominent Turkish journalists and writers - including Nobel literature prize winner Orhan Pamuk - have been tried for insulting "Turkishness" and state institutions.
Lawmakers say they want to soften controversial Article 301 of the penal code but are focusing now on lifting a ban against wearing Islamic-style headscarves at Turkey's universities.
"301 continues to be one of the top items on our agenda. As soon as we are done with the head scarf issue in higher education institutions, it will come up again," said ruling party legislator Nurettin Canikli.
Yayla, who was in Britain and could not immediately be reached for comment Monday, will appeal the verdict, said Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz of the Association for Liberal Thinking.
Yayla was charged in connection with a 2006 speech in which he said the era of one-party rule under Ataturk, from 1925-45, was not as progressive as the official ideology would have Turks believe.
He called it "regressive in some respects," and also criticized the many statues and pictures of Ataturk on office walls, saying Europeans would be baffled to see so many portraits of just one man.
Yayla insisted that he was not insulting Ataturk but questioning his legacy. He said he was also challenging the rigid way in which some followers interpret Ataturk's principles as opposing liberal reforms, and their imposition of strict secular laws such as the ban on head scarves at universities.
"As an academic, I must be free to think, to search and share findings," Yayla said in a December 2006 interview with The Associated Press. "If Turkey wants to be a civilized country, academics must be able to scientifically criticize and evaluate Ataturk's ideas."
Gazi University fired Yayla over the controversy, but he later was reinstated.