International Herald Tribune
The Associated Press
Jan 7 2008

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkey's government will resume discussions Monday on
a proposal to soften a much-criticized law that inhibits free speech,
the justice minister said, in a bid to remove a major stumbling block
to the country's hopes of joining the EU.

Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin would not give details on the
proposed change to the law, but said it was likely to be voted on in
parliament later this week.

Turkey's penal code makes denigrating "Turkishness" or insulting the
country's institutions a crime punishable by up to three years in
prison. The EU has said the law falls short of the bloc's standards on
free speech and has warned it threatens to further slowdown accession
talks with Turkey.

Under the proposed amendment, the Justice Ministry's permission would
be required for prosecutors to launch investigations into possible
violations of the article, according to Turkish news reports. The
term "Turkishness" would be replaced with "Turkish nation," the
reports said.

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was among the highest profile Turks to be
prosecuted under the law, when he commented on the mass killings of
Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century.

Up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the
time of World War I, which many genocide scholars consider the first
genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey contends the death toll has been inflated and the killings were
the result of civil unrest, not genocide. The case against Pamuk was
dropped over a technicality.

Other writers, journalists and academics have also been prosecuted
under the law.

Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist who was the editor of
the minority Agos newspaper, was shot outside his Istanbul office
last year, following his prosecution for comments he made about the
killings of Armenians. His murder revived a debate about the law, and
many said his prosecution made him a target for radical nationalists.

In a report released in November, the EU called on Turkey to make
progress on freedom of expression.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but the negotiations were
partially suspended last year after Ankara refused to open its ports
and airports to traffic from EU-member Cyprus.