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Turkey7 November 2007

Call for ‘deeds not words’ as Justice minister talks of amending law on insult to Turkish identity

Reporters Without Borders today urged the Turkish authorities to move to ‘deeds not words’ on reform of Article 301 of criminal law allowing prosecution for “insulting Turkish identity” after the justice minister yesterday made a new statement of intent.

“It’s been two years now since, alongside Turkish journalists and press freedom organisations, we have called for the law to be amended and proceedings dropped against those who criticise, on the pretext that they are” insulting Turkish identity,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“We cannot forget that Turkish authorities have used Article 301 as a tool of terrible repression. It gives voice to and stokes up nationalist tensions at work in Turkey and finds fervent advocates in the Turkish legal system,” the organisation said.

The Turkish journalist of Armenian origin Hrant Dink, murdered on 19 January 2007, was himself prosecuted under this article. His son, Arat Dink was given a one-year suspended prison sentence on 11 October, for reprinting in the weekly Agos an interview given by his father to the Reuters news agency, in which he recalled that the massacres of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 were genocide”, it continued.

Justice minister Mehmet Ali Sahin told the Anatolie news agency yesterday that the government in Ankara had decided to amend Article 301. He specified that the council of minister would “at the first opportunity” examine various projects on the basis of proposals from civil organisations, select some and then seek debate on them in parliament.

This statement was in response to the conclusions of the annual report on the state of negotiations on Turkish membership of the European Union (EU), released by the European Commission on the same day.

The report stressed that “considerable effort is still required on freedom of expression” and urged the Turkish government to take “immediate steps” in this area.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 3 October that he was in favour of amending Article 301. The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made similar promises in November 2006 ahead of the publication of the annual EU report.

Article 301 headed “denigration of Turkish identity, of the republic, the institutions or organs of state”, imposes a sentence of six months to three years on “anyone who openly denigrates the government, organs of state justice or military or police structures.”

Not only do the Turkish courts severely apply this law, but they ignore paragraph 4 which stipulates that, “Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime”.

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