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Turkish expat sues book publisher for libel

ROCKVILLE — It’s a defamation lawsuit, but it’s also a lesson in Turkish geo-politics.

Gulseven Yaser is seeking $1.2 million in damages from a Lanham-based publisher, claiming that ‘Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey’ intentionally or recklessly ruined her reputation.

Gulseven Yaser is seeking $1.2 million in damages from a Lanham-based publisher, claiming that ‘Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey’ intentionally or recklessly ruined her reputation.

The former leader of a charitable foundation in Turkey, who now lives in Florida, has filed suit against the Maryland publisher of a book about a Turkish religious leader now living in Pennsylvania. Also named as a defendant is the book’s author — a human rights attorney in Texas.

Gulseven Yaser is the Turkish expat in Florida. She is seeking $1.2 million in damages from University Press of America, an imprint of Lanham-based Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., for allegedly ruining her reputation by publishing a book about Fethullah Gulen, an influential and controversial religious leader in Turkey.

Yaser’s lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, states the book falsely accuses her of having ties with an alleged anti-government plot and “intentionally and recklessly” assaults her reputation.

James C. Harrington, the book’s author and director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in an interview Monday he stands by his work. Harrington added he “did everything he could” to talk with Yaser for his book.

“I’d love to do her deposition,” he said of the lawsuit, which was filed in December. “I want to ask her the questions I wanted to ask her in person.”

He may get his chance. At a hearing on Friday, the judge scheduled a settlement conference for October, according to court records.

Requests for comment from Rowman & Littlefield were not returned. Timur Edib, Yaser’s lawyer and a Rockville solo practitioner, was unavailable for comment Monday.

Gulen leads an eponymous faith-based movement that encourages followers around the world to give money toward educational causes; Harrington compares it to tithing. The movement, also known as Hizmet (Turkish for “service”), runs thousands of schools across the world, including in the United States.

But its influence goes beyond education in Turkey, where the movement reportedly has supporters throughout much of the government and society, including Turkey’s largest-circulation newspaper and other business interests.

According to contemporaneous news accounts, Gulen moved from Turkey to the Poconos in 1999, ostensibly for medical reasons but also because he believed he would be charged with overthrowing the secular government. That fear was realized the following year, when he was tried while living in exile.

Gulen ultimately was acquitted of the charges in 2008.

A few years later, Harrington visited Turkey on an interfaith trip sponsored by Gulen’s group. Someone suggested he write a book on Gulen’s trial.

He did. “Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials of Fethullah Gulen,” was published in 2011.

The book includes several mentions of Yaser, the former president of the Contemporary Education Foundation, known by its Turkish-language acronym, CEV.

According to Yaser’s lawsuit, CEV, founded in 1994, “aims to provide all individuals better-quality living standards and education” and has helped provide scholarships to more than 15,000 students in Turkey.

But Yaser and CEV were indicted in 2011, before the book’s publication, for allegedly being part of an anti-government plot known as Ergenekon.

Harrington wrote in his book that Yaser “disappeared from Turkey” and was rumored to be living in the United States. Yaser’s lawsuit says she arrived in the U.S. in 2009 for health reasons and was not aware she would be charged with any crimes.

“It is intentional and/or reckless when [Harrington] alleged that Gulseven Yaser disappeared because of being under the Ergenekon indictment,” the lawsuit states.

Harrington’s book says Yaser allegedly has ties with the “Turkish Gladio,” which started as an anti-communist organization during the Cold War but is also suspected of being behind several military coups and other violence in Turkey.

Yaser denied the accusation in her lawsuit and said it was made to expose her “to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule.”

Harrington’s book also claims Yaser, an “ardent foe of Gulen,” bribed two students to claim they were the authors of a book she ghostwrote about being brainwashed at a Gulen movement school. Yaser’s lawsuit counters a Turkish court found the statements in the book to be truthful.

Harrington, in an interview, said he has traveled the equivalent of six-and-a-half times around the world promoting his book and was “fully expecting” people to criticize or challenge his book because of the subject matter and content. But Yaser’s lawsuit is the first time anyone has challenged the book, he said.

“I was pretty careful how I worded that stuff,” he said. “Precision is my business as a lawyer.”