Turkey to ease curbs on free speech

Parliament to vote on bill that would soften law punishing insults to "Turkishness".

    Attacks by nationalists have sparked protests from Turkish journalists and writers [EPA]
    "I believe we will push the amendment to Article 301 through parliament next week," Erdogan said in a televised address to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Tuesday.
     
    The government submitted to parliament a draft amendment late Monday, ahead of a visit by Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission President, and Olli Rehn, EU enlargement commissioner, who will arrive in Turkey on Thursday.

    EU demands

    The European Union has been calling on Turkey to amend Article 301, which has been the basis for charges against Turkish writers and journalists such as Hrant Dink, Orhan Pamuk, and Elif Safak, though most cases have eventually been dismissed.
     

    "If you force the limits of our society's values and public opinion you destabilize certain social balances"

    Kemal Kerincsiz,
    Nationalist lawyer

    Since Hrant Dink was killed, the calls for change inside the country have grown louder.
     
    Although his death outraged many Turks, conservatives in Turkey still want freedom of speech to be limited.
     

    The proposal, which could be voted on as early as April 15, calls for the president's approval before prosecutors can launch cases, a move that would make trials under the article more difficult.

      

    It also replaces the term "Turkishness" (which critics say is too broad and vague) with the "Turkish nation" and decreases the maximum jail term to two years, which would allow the sentence to be suspended or converted to a fine.  

     

    It also removes a provision that calls for an increased sanction if the crime is committed abroad.

     

    The AKP is expected to have no difficulty in passing the amendment as it dominates the 550-seat parliament with 340 MPs.

      
    Cautious welcome
     
    Ahmet Shik, one of dozens of journalists prosecuted under 301 for insulting Turkey's military told Al Jazeera: "There are approximately 20 other articles in our criminal code that restrict freedom of expression. Even if they abolish 301 there are others."
     
    Kemal Kerincsiz, a nationalist lawyer who approves of article 301, told Al Jazeera that if it was amended Turkey would face many social and political troubles.

    "If you force the limits of our society's values and public opinion you destabilise certain social balances and people will take the law into their own hands. Hrant Dink's murder is a best example of this," he said.
     
    Shortly after the interview with Al Jazeera, Kerincsiz was arrested in a police operation. The authorities claimed he and other ultranationalists were planning to subvert the law for political ends.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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