TURKEY SAYS TO AMEND LAW CURBING FREE SPEECH
By Hidir Goktas

San Diego Union Tribune, CA
Reuters
Jan 7 2008

ANKARA - Turkey's government, under pressure from the European Union,
will propose changes this week to a law that has been used to prosecute
writers and is widely seen as a major obstacle to Ankara's troubled
EU membership bid.

Article 301 of the penal code makes it a crime to insult 'Turkishness'
and has been used to prosecute Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk
and many other writers and journalists.

Advertisement'The change in article 301 ... will be presented to
parliament as a proposal this week,' Justice Minister Mehmet Ali
Sahin told a news conference on Monday.

Sahin gave no details of the proposed changes, but a justice ministry
official told Reuters the revised article would make it a crime to
insult 'the Turkish people' instead of the vaguer 'Turkishness'.

Also, the justice ministry would have to give its permission in
future for cases to be opened under article 301, the official said,
a move that should prevent nationalist prosecutors with their own
political agenda from exploiting the law.

Tackling article 301 has become a litmus test of Turkey's commitment
to reforms for the EU, which opened formal accession talks with the
large Muslim but secular country in 2005.

Ankara's EU negotiations have slowed to a crawl amid disputes over
human rights and Cyprus.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has recommended that the EU not
extend accession talks to the justice dossier until the article has
been changed.

NATIONALISTS

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has
repeatedly pledged to amend article 301, but analysts say it has been
treading warily despite its large parliamentary majority for fear of
sparking a nationalist backlash.

Despite the high-profile cases brought under the law, it remains
broadly popular among the Turkish public. Defenders of article 301
point out that few cases end with a conviction.

Pamuk, whose own case was dropped on a legal technicality, upset
nationalist prosecutors with his comments about the mass killings of
ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16.

Ankara denies Armenian accusations, which are backed by many Western
historians, that the killings amounted to systematic genocide. Most
Turks view the genocide tag as an insult to their national honour.

Supporters of Turkey's EU bid hope amending article 301 will help put
the accession process back on track, but Ankara faces opposition from
French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel say Turkey is too big
and too culturally different ever to fit in the EU and want Ankara
to accept instead a 'privileged partnership' falling well short of
membership, a proposal Erdogan has rejected.