Turkey Narrows Scope of Lese-Majesty Law

April 30, 2008 06:01 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A law that had banned criticism of “Turkishness” was amended Wednesday. But with a recent rise in nationalism, not all Turks welcome the new leniency.

30-Second Summary

Turkey’s parliament voted 250-65 to change Article 301 of the Turkish penal code to criminalize insulting only the “Turkish state” and Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Previously, the law made illegal any communication found to be disparaging of the vaguely defined concept of “Turkishness.”

The move was heralded by the European Union. Said the EU presidency, “This is a constructive step forward in ensuring freedom of expression and we look forward to its effective implementation.”

But what Turks find to be endless pre-EU accession demands has played into nationalist backlash. Statistics compiled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy show Turkish popular support for EU accession dropping from 65 to 49 percent between 2002 and 2007.

The increasing nationalism led some Turks to embrace the old law. One lawyer, Kemal Kerincsiz, has brought cases under Article 301 against at least 40 writers and was indicted in January along with 12 others for conspiring to assassinate known Turkish dissidents, including journalist Hrant Dink. After Dink was killed by a hard-line nationalist teenager, his murderer was photographed being embraced by police officers sympathetic to his cause.

Meanwhile free speech advocates say the amendments do not go far enough. Reporters Without Borders says they “still leave too much scope for misuse of these articles and for prosecutions against the news media.”

Headline Link: ‘Turkish Parliament Softens Law Restricting Free Speech’

Background: Nationalism, Article 301 and a clampdown on writers

Key Player: Recep Tayyip Erdogan (1954–)

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Amendments to Article 301 on “Turkish identity” Fail to Satisfy’

Related Topics: Turkey in the headlines

Reference: Secularism in Turkey


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