Turkey's President Seeks to Change Law That Criminalizes Insults to Turkish Identity

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Oct 4 13:59:37 UTC 2007

October 4, 2007

Turkey's President Seeks to Change Law That Criminalizes Insults to
Turkish Identity


STRASBOURG, France, Oct. 3 (AP)  Turkey's new president on Wednesday
called for changes to a law that makes it a crime to insult Turkish
identity legislation that the European Union wants Turkey to rescind.
Among those who have been prosecuted under the law have been the Nobel
Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and the ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant
Dink, who was killed in January by a 17-year-old boy. The boy and 17 other
people are currently on trial in that case.

But Turkey, though aspiring to join the European Union, so far has
resisted pressure to strike the law, known as Article 301, from its legal
code. We know there are problems with regard to Article 301, President
Abdullah Gul told reporters on Wednesday at the Council of Europe here.
Theres still room for improvement, and there are changes to be enacted in
the period ahead. He added that he supported changing Article 301.

Mr. Gul has said the law damages Turkey's image by portraying it as a
country where intellectuals are jailed for speaking their mind. On
Wednesday, he said that it was an unfair perception that people were
imprisoned because of the law. No one is going to prison for expressing
their view freely, he told representatives to the council. The Council of
Europe, which has 47 member states, seeks to develop common and democratic
principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other
documents. Mr. Gul gave no time frame for changes to the law but said the
government was committed to improving its human rights record. The issue
has been among those that have been raised as a problem for Turkey's
to be accepted as a member of the European Union.

In February, a group of civic groups submitted suggestions for rewording a
section of the law. But some critics of the law say it should be revoked,
not amended. After the killing of Mr. Dink, some critics said the law was
partly responsible. According to this argument, Mr. Dink's conviction under
the article for comments he made about the genocide in which more than a
million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turk government from 1915 to
1918 made him a traitor in the eyes of many Turks and put his life in

Mr. Gul said Turkey was more tolerant and democratic today than it was
five years ago, when it initiated widespread social and judicial changes.
All forms of discrimination are banned, he said. Legal and constitutional
guarantees on the right to association and assembly are reinforced.
Cultural and religious rights have been upgraded. Mr. Gul's visit to the
Council of Europe, which is based in Strasbourg, is his first to Western
Europe since he was elected president in August after months of debate
over his candidacy for a post traditionally held by a secularist. Mr. Gul
is from a party with Islamist roots.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gul also warned against any territorial division of
Iraq. One should not fall into the illusion that the current problems can
be overcome by the partition of Iraq, he said. This would be the worst
scenario for the people of Iraq, and the whole region.


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