Two steps forward, one step back

Turkey’s road to membership of the EU has been losing momentum ever since it entered accession talks last year, with the latest blow coming via a new report that heavily criticises the country’s record on human rights and freedom of speech.

Turkey's Article 301 has been the source of much controversy
Turkey's Article 301 has been the source of much controversy

The initial findings by members of the European Parliament was delivered in a report on September 27, and showed that Turkey is behind on its promised reforms.

The all important progress report from the European Commission is to be delivered on November 8.
On Friday, Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, told Finnish public television YLE: “Speeding up reforms is the best way to avoid a collision between the EU and Turkey, and cooling or halting the negotiations process”.
One area that has been in the spotlight throughout September is freedom of speech, an integral part of Turkey’s move towards full democratisation.

Article 301
The acquittal of a prominent Turkish writer, Elif Shafak, who was prosecuted under Article 301 of the new penal code was seen as a huge step forward for freedom of speech in Turkey.

Shafak celebrated the verdict on September 21 from hospital after giving birth just one week earlier to her first child. She was absent from the opening hearing.
Shafak also expressed concern over what she called a “culture of lynching” emerging against those voicing “dissident” views in Turkey.

Author Elif Shafak talks about a ‘culture of lynching’ in Turkey

Author Elif Shafak talks about a
‘culture of lynching’ in Turkey

The irony of Article 301 is that it was brought in as part of the new penal code on June 1, 2005, in the drive for reforms to please Europe, but has instead been the cause of much controversy.
The article states that under the penal code, any person who publicly denigrates Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years. 
It also states that a person who publicly denigrates the government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security organisations shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.
In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country, the punishment shall be increased by one third. Expressions of thought intended to criticise shall not constitute a crime.

‘Revised or abolished’
Ali Yurtugul, a member of the European Parliament and adviser on migration, asylum and discrimination and on issues linked to Turkey, told that Article 301 will be a focal point of discussions between Ankara and Olli Rehn, who is scheduled to visit the Turkish capital next week.
Yurtugul said: “Rehn will travel to Ankara next week and he will focus on Article 301 with regard to freedom of speech in Turkey.  It is clear that all cases show that 301 is a problem in Turkey.
“It is used by people who are dangerous to Turkey’s move towards a democratic future. It must simply be revised or abolished.”
Referring to Article 301, Shafak told the Turkish TV station, NTV, after a scuffle outside the court house between nationalist lawyers and her supporters: “I am concerned about an idea that has recently developed in Turkey, the idea that ‘those who do not think like us are co-operating with the enemy’.”
Yurtugul also said that after the acquittal of Shafak, it was clear that the government was fully aware of the threat of such an article and that he believed that it would be abolished by the end of this year.
Kurdish speech
In a related development, the opening hearing of 56 Kurdish mayors got under way in the south eastern city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday.

They are charged with supporting a terrorist organisation after writing a letter to the Danish prime minister earlier this year to request that Roj TV, a Kurdish station based in Denmark, be allowed to remain on air. 

Osman Baydemir, the mayor of
Diyarbakir, speaks to reporters

Ankara has demanded the channel be closed down because of content that supports the armed separatist movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has been responsible for a spate of bombings this year, and it is believed that at least 30,000 people have been killed in the long war between Turkey and the separatists.
Yurtugul said: “It is a separate issue from Article 301. It was ridiculous of the mayors to write such a letter to the Danish prime minister. Legally if you put that in the context of Europe, it was the wrong way to execute such a demand.
Whilst suggesting that the programming of Roj TV is quite clearly in support of the PKK, he suggests the government could have been more subtle in its approach.

“They could have taken a different approach by holding a press conference with the Turkish media that would have been based on opinion instead of writing such a letter.”
Self criticism
Yusuf Kanli, editor of the Turkish Daily News, an English language daily, accepts criticisms in the European Parliament report as part of the EU process and also believes that Turks need to start looking at themselves and take responsibility for an organic democratic process instead of blaming others.

“We should stop this habit of torturing ourselves. We cannot be a society composed of masochists,” he says.
“Let’s face it, despite all the reforms, we have a long way to go before becoming a democratic society. Accepting this fact will itself be a big step forward.” 

“Let’s face it, despite all the reforms, we have a long way to go before becoming a democratic society”

Yusuf Kanli, Turkish Daily News

One of the other issues that came up against hard criticism in the report was the Cyprus issue.

The EU says that Turkey must open up ports on the northern part of the island to Greek ships. The island was invaded and partitioned in 1974 by Turkish troops.
The Armenian genocide must also be recognised according to the report.
Yurtugul told that Article 301 would be a focus of Rehn’s visit, because both Cyprus and the Armenian issue have strong lobbies in Europe but Article 301 does not.
It is possible that last-minute reforms could help Turkey’s case, but EU officials will wait to hand down a verdict upon receiving the EC progress report.

Source : Al Jazeera

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