TURKEY EASES RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Trend News Agency, Azerbaijan
April 30 2008

The Turkish parliament early Wednesday passed amendments to the
infamous Article 301 of the criminal code which criminalizes "insulting
Turkishness" and which has been strongly criticized by the European
Union and human rights groups, reported the dpa.

Hundreds of writers and intellectuals have been charged under Article
301, the most prominent being Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and ethnic
Armenian journalist Hrant Dink who was murdered after being found
guilty of "insulting Turkishness".

The amended law replaces "insulting Turkishness" with "insulting the
Turkish nation", reduces the highest penalty that courts may give
from three years to two years imprisonment and makes it a requirement
that the justice minister must give approval for any court cases to
actually begin.

The European Union and human rights groups have long campaigned
for the law to be amended, but first reactions suggest that further
pressure will be put on the Turkish government to relax restrictions
on freedom of speech.

"This is just lipstick for the European Union", Eren Keskin of the
Human Rights Association told the Deutsche Press Agentur. "The guts
of the new article show no real changes that might affect the outcome
of a trial."

Keskin, who was found guilty in March under Article 301 of "insulting
the armed forces" for suggesting that the military has too much
influence in Turkey, said that with the new requirement that the
justice minister give permission for court cases to begin meant that
investigation periods will now be longer.

"I do not want changes. I want the article annulled," Keskin
said. "Stating your opinion will still be a crime".

Journalist and rights campaigner Ertugrul Kurkcu also criticized the
new law saying that there has not been any significant change.

"It still leaves a lot of space for judges to decide and give their
own definition of the demarcation line between criticism and insult,"
Kurkcu said. "The article should have been annulled, leaving no space
for prosecution of writers and intellectuals."