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06 11 10 - The Turkish government has decided to take steps on Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code AKP Prepares Draft Changes on Controversial Article 301 By Omer Sahin Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Turkish government has decided to take steps on Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, a major stumbling block in Turkey‘s relationship with the European Union.According to the AKP, the article will be amended in an effort to expand freedom of thought and expression and eliminate ambiguity in the wording. The government is waiting for proposals from non-governmental organizations for the final touches. The Turkish Parliament is planning to pass the amendments before the EU leaders’ summit in December. The EU Progress Report and Strategy Paper released yesterday devoted much of its criticism to Article 301. The report, critical in terms of Turkey’s future negotiation process, singled out freedom of expression and the Cyprus issue as the most important sticking points. The report did state that Turkey had met the Copenhagen Criteria but the pace of the reforms had slowed down. The European Commission wants Article 301 to be amended. The report criticized Article 301 as follows: “Certain provisions of the Penal Code leave a significant margin of interpretation for the judiciary. In particular, the restrictive interpretation of article 301 led to prosecutions and convictions of people for the expression of non-violent opinion.” The article gained worldwide notoriety for the trials of Turkish novelists Orhan Pamuk, Elif Safak and journalist Hrant Dink. It became clear that something had to be done about 301. Turkish Minister of Justice Cemil Cicek and AKP Deputy Leader Hayati Yazici met with legal consultants and authorities on the penal code at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. Various proposals and views were discussed and draft changes for Article 301 were prepared. “Turkishness” will be replaced by the term, “Turkish nation,” and provisions tripling the penalty for a violation of Article 301 in a foreign country by a Turkish citizen will be abolished. Another much criticized aspect of Article 301 is the provision that states, “Expressing thoughts for the purpose of criticism does not constitute a crime.” Despite this provision, interpretations of Article 301 have allowed an ambiguity that blurs the line between ‘criticism’ and ‘insult.’ That this ambiguity has been exploited to prosecute writers and journalists is a major reason behind the need to amend, or as some believe, abolish, Article 301. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Controversial Article 301: 1. A person who openly denigrates Turkishness, the republic or the Turkish Grand National Assembly will be sentenced to a sentence ranging from six months to three years imprisonment. 2. A person who openly denigrates the Turkish government, the state’s judiciary organs, the military or police will be sentenced to a sentence of six months to two years imprisonment. 3. In the event the crime of denigrating Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in a foreign country, the penalty shall be increased three times. 4. Expressing thoughts for the purpose of criticism does not constitute a crime.


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