TURKEY TO CHANGE FREE SPEECH LAW

Al-Jazeera
Jan 7 2008
Qatar

Rehn has said Turkey-EU talks should not continue until the law
is changed.

Turkey is expected to amend a heavily criticised law which makes
"insulting Turkishness" illegal, in order to improve its chances of
entering the EU.

Mehmet Ali Sahin, the country's justice minister, said on Monday:
"The work [on the draft] has been finalised. I believe the proposal
could be submitted to parliament this week."

The EU has put pressure on Turkey to change the law, article 301 in
the penal code, that is criticised as a threat to freedom of speech
in Turkey.

The law is seen as a major stumbling block to Turkey's accession to
the EU.

Turkey's centre-right government has said it will change article
301, but critics say that this has not materalised for fear of a
nationalist backlash.

Breaking the law can mean a sentence of up to four years in jail.

Change of wording

Sahin refused to comment on the nature of the changes to the law
before they were discussed at a cabinet meeting on Monday.

However, media reports have said that the term "insulting Turkishness"
may change to "insulting the Turkish nation" or "insulting the
Turkish people".

Sahin suggested that the justice ministry would have to give permission
before proceedings could start under the article.

This would prevent nationalist prosecutors from exploiting the law.

Block to accession

Talks between Turkey and the EU have stalled due to human-rights
disputes and Turkey's conflict in Cyprus.

Olli Rehn, the EU's enlargement commissioner, has advised that
negotiations with Turkey should not progress until article 301
is changed.

Dozens of journalists and writers, including Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel
literature laureate, have been prosecuted and convicted under the law,
but none have been jailed.

Typically it has been used against those saying that the Ottoman
Empire's massacres of Armenians in World War I were genocide.