Today's Zaman, Turkey
Jan 8 2008

Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Þahin said he would submit to the
Cabinet a bill amending Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK),
which has been used extensively by ultranationalists to curb free
speech, but the ministers did not take up the issue when they met
yesterday, according to a statement by government spokesperson Cemil
Cicek on Monday evening.

During a press conference after yesterday's Cabinet meeting Cicek
said the ministers reviewed a regulation on individuals who invested
in Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKÝ) projects,
a new bill on banking confidentiality and another one on state secrets.

They also opened to signature another new bill that would significantly
ease voting for Turkish citizens who reside in foreign countries.

Minister Þahin had stated that the bill to amend Article 301 would
find its way to Parliament this week. Article 301, which criminalizes
-- among other things -- "denigrating or insulting Turkishness," is
undoubtedly the most famous penal code article in the world. It is
also believed by many to be the "real" murderer of Turkish-Armenian
journalist Hrant Dink, who was shot dead outside his newspaper's
office on Jan. 19 of last year. Prior to his death, charges were
brought against Dink under Article 301. The teenager who pulled the
trigger testified he had heard that Dink had "denigrated Turkishness."

Not only has the European Union, with which Turkey is having membership
talks, appealed for change or removal of Article 301 many times,
but international rights organizations as well, including Amnesty
International, have also protested the trials initiated under
301. Since it went into force on June 1, 2005 as part of a package
needed to start full membership talks with the European Union, charges
have been brought against writers, intellectuals and journalists in
more than 60 cases. A majority of them were opened by ultranationalist
lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz.

Among the high-profile 301 victims was Orhan Pamuk, who had to
appear before a court over allegations of an Armenian genocide he
had voiced to a foreign newspaper. Five journalists were charged in
February of last year with insulting state judicial institutions after
criticizing a court decision that banned a conference on Armenian
genocide allegations. They were all acquitted at the trial's close.

Journalist Perihan Maden, the Turkish publisher of Noam Chomsky's
"Manufacturing Consent," writer Elif Þafak, publisher Ragýp Zarakolu
are some of the more well-known individuals who have been tried over
301-related charges; none were convicted.

There have also been protests against Article 301 in various cities
around Turkey. Since the Dink assassination, the government has been
considering a change to the problematic article.

Proposed changes to the current text

Currently, Article 301 states the following: A person who publicly
denigrates Turkishness, the republic or the Turkish Parliament shall
be subject to imprisonment of between six months and three years.

A person who publicly denigrates the government of the Republic
of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the state, the military or
security organizations shall be subject to imprisonment of between
six months and two years.

In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish
citizen in another country, the punishment shall be increased by

Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute
a crime.

Under the proposed text the Cabinet will soon be reviewing, in order
for a trial process to start regarding 301-related charges an approval
from the Ministry of Justice will be needed. The word "Turkishness"
in the current article is being replaced with the phrase "the Turkish
nation," while the word "Republic" is being replaced with "the Republic
of Turkey." Also, the "intent" to "denigrate," the Turkish nation or
the Republic of Turkey will have to be present for a legal probe to
be launched under the new version of the article.