Mehmed Uzun, a Kurdish novelist who was prosecuted for criticizing Turkey's ban on the Kurdish language, died Thursday at a hospital in Diyarbakir, Turkey, after a battle against stomach cancer, his friend Sehmuz Diken said. He was 54.
Uzun was the author of about a dozen novels in Kurdish and Turkish, including "In the Shadow of a Lost Love," and was considered one of the leading writers of modern Kurdish literature.
He fled to Sweden in 1977 after serving a brief prison term on Kurdish separatism charges for his writings in the magazine Rizgazi, of which he was a managing editor.
In 2000, Uzun was again prosecuted for instigating separatism for a speech he made in Diyarbakir, in which he slammed Turkey's ban on the Kurdish language and called for Kurds to be educated in Kurdish. He was not present for the hearings, but through his lawyer submitted written testimony. Uzun was acquitted.
"Turkish should remain as the official language, but Kurds should be educated in Kurdish in their own regions," Uzun had said in his speech.
Speaking Kurdish was forbidden in Turkey until 1990. The Turkish government continued to ban the use of Kurdish in schools, official settings and non-music broadcasts until 2002, when -- under pressure from the European Union -- it allowed a limited number of Kurdish programs on state-owned radio and television. Turkey still refuses to allow Kurdish education in schools, saying it would divide the country.
"How can a language be banned? How can a ban be imposed on the identity of a people?" Uzun asked. "I am saying this not as a Kurd, but as an intellectual."
In an interview with Milliyet newspaper last year, Uzun recalled being punished on his first day at school for speaking Kurdish.
"I was slapped because I spoke Kurdish -- I couldn't even speak Turkish!" he told Milliyet.
Uzun was born in 1953 in the Kurdish province of Sanliurfa. He became a Swedish citizen soon after his exile and lived in Sweden until 2005, when he returned to Turkey.
He is survived by his wife, Zozan, and two children.