EU-sought penal code takes effect in Turkey despite criticism

KurdishMedia, UK
June 2 2005

01/06/2005 AFP

ANKARA, June 1 (AFP) - 10h19 - Turkey's new penal code, a key reform
demanded by the European Union, took effect Wednesday after months of
political wrangling and despite criticism that it severely restricts
press freedoms.

Controversy has haunted the code ever since the government rushed it
through parliament last September as part of reforms that helped Turkey
win an EU green light for accession talks scheduled to start this fall.

The law has been welcomed for introducing a more liberal criminal
justice system, in particular increasing penalties against human
rights abuses and torture and significantly improving the rights of
women and children.

But some parts, notably those concerning the media, triggered a
widespread campaign against the law, forcing Ankara to put it on
hold just days before it was due to take effect on April 1 to allow
parliament time to amend several provisions.

Parliament passed the amendments last week, but President Ahmet Necdet
Sezer, who has two weeks to study the articles, had not signed them
into law by midnight Tuesday, which means the code took effect in
its original form.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul played down the prospect of Sezer
vetoing the amendments, insisting that the main reforms demanded by
the EU were part of the code's original version.

"The issues of concern to the EU -- in other words, provisions related
to the (EU) political criteria -- have already been amended," Gul said.

Turkish newspapers greeted the new code with protests and scepticism.

"Freedom of the press is in danger," declared the daily Aksam, while
Milliyet headlined: "Sour start to a new era."

The Radikal newspaper lashed out at the government for failing to
address the complaints of press groups, which argue that under the new
code, journalists may still end up behind bars although jail sentences
were purged from the press law in an earlier reform last year.

Experts say articles concerning the media contain terms vague enough
to leave prosecutors and judges with room for arbitrary decisions
that may threaten freedom of expression.

One article of particular concern foresees up to 15 years imprisonment
for those who disseminate propaganda via the media against "fundamental
national interests" in return for material benefits from foreigners.

The article raised alarm when it emerged that explanatory notes in
the draft said it targets those who may, for instance, advocate the
withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus or support claims that the
massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire was genocide.

Press groups also say provisions pertaining to the protection of
privacy and the secrecy of judicial proceedings until suspects are
formally charged are too restrictive and will deal a heavy blow to
investigative journalism.