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Turkey25 May 2005

Call for major amendments to new criminal code that threatens press freedom

Reporters Without Borders said it shared the concerns of Turkish journalists over threats to press freedom from a new criminal law that still needed major amendments before coming into force on 1st June. . Despite revisions voted by parliament after it was adjourned on 31 March 2005 following strong media protests, the organisation repeated its call for the removal of prison sentences for press offences.

"Far from bringing Turkish law into line with European law on freedom of expression, some articles of the code on the contrary would facilitate arbitrary legal action against journalists and entailing a climate of self-censorship damaging to press freedom", it said.

Several articles of the new code are particularly perilous. Article 305 which punishes acts that go against "fundamental national interests" by prison sentences of three to ten years, threatens journalists and the right of the public to be informed. Any claim to do with the "Armenian genocide" or "withdrawal of Turkish armed forces in Cyprus" would be considered as against "fundamental national interests".

Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned in the past for having simply expressed their opinion on this type of subject. Turkish deputies did nevertheless agree to remove paragraph 2 of the article which set out a 50 % increase in sentences if the offence was committed via the press.

Article 301 that is to replace 159 has been used in the past to severely punish any criticism of parliament, the justice system or the security forces. It will be termed in future "Humiliation of Turkish identity, the Republic, state institutions and bodies". It will allow wide scope for interpretation and threaten anyone criticising Turkish identity, the state or parliament with a prison sentence of six months to three years. Any person who attacks the government, justice system or the security forces moreover faces six months to two years in prison.

Article 285 threatens with four and half years in prison anyone "violating the confidentiality of an investigation". This could be a serious threat to the right of journalists to protect their sources.

Article 277 punishes anyone trying to "sway the justice system" with two to four years in prison and potentially puts in danger journalists covering court proceedings.

Under Article 267 of the new code, defamation in the press with the aim of exposing someone to a judicial investigation is liable to a one to four-year prison sentence.

Article 216, formerly 312, punishes with one to three years in prison "deliberate incitement of a section of the population to hatred and hostility through discrimination on the basis of race, region or membership of a religious group, against another section of the population" that causes "a clear and direct danger to the public" (paragraph 1).

"Humiliation of a section of the population due to social, religious, sexual or regional differences" is liable to a sentence of six months to one year in prison (paragraph 2). "Overt humiliation of a person because of their religious principles is liable to six months to one year in prison if the offence threatens social peace" (Paragraph 3). This "humiliation", a very vague legal concept, capable of being interpreted very widely by jurisprudence, directly threatens freedom of expression both for journalists and for the general public.

This is not an exhaustive list. Turkish journalists and press freedom organisations see parliamentary amendments drawn up ahead of 1st June to the version of the code as it was to have been applied on 1st April, as very inadequate. They consider that only six of the 20 problematic points have been revised Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

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