TURKEY TO SEND FREE SPEECH REFORM TO PARLIAMENT

Assyrian International News Agency
Jan 7 2008

Turkey's government will send to parliament this week changes to a law
restricting freedom of speech which is seen as a key obstacle to its
bid to join the European Union, the justice minister said on Monday.

Ankara faces intense pressure from the EU to amend or scrap article
301 of the penal code which makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness"
and which has been used to prosecute leading Turkish writers.

Turkish officials said last month Turkey would only reform the law
once the EU allows its stalled membership talks to resume. Ankara
is frustrated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's efforts to block
the negotiation process.

"The change in article 301 will be discussed in the cabinet today
and will be presented to parliament as a proposal this week," Justice
Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin told a news conference.

The government has been considering various reform proposals aimed
at easing freedom of expression restrictions, but the specifics of
the reform have not been unveiled.

Article 301 has been used to prosecute Turkish writers and thinkers,
notably for comments on the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 under
the Ottoman Empire.

Two years ago Turkey tried Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk
under article 301 for his remarks on the events of 1915-16, but he
was acquitted on a legal technicality.

The European Commission's annual progress report on Turkey, published
in November, called on Ankara to make "significant further efforts"
on freedom of expression and religion.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has recommended that the EU not
extend accession talks to the key areas of justice and human rights
until the article is changed.