ANASAYFA Forum TURKISH CHRISTIAN FORUM (in English) "Turkishness" Redefining Turkishness-April 2008

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    Redefining Turkishness

    On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan submitted to parliament an amendment to the controversial Article 301 of the penal code which places harsh restrictions on free speech. Currently, any citizen can be brought to court and imprisoned for “insulting Turkishness.” And while the Turkish government would like us to believe that this amendment is a step toward righting its troubled civil-rights record, the changes do nothing to alleviate constrictions on expression.

    The proposal — which will likely be voted on early next week and should pass easily, as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds 340 of the 550 seats in parliament — calls for shortening the maximum sentence from three to two years for violating the article. It also would require permission from the president to prosecute and would attempt to clarify the clause “denigrating Turkishness” by replacing it with “denigrating the Turkish nation.”

    The European Union has long urged Turkey to amend, or outright do away with, Article 301 and to improve its civil-rights record as prerequisites for accession. Now that Turkey’s Constitutional Court has agreed to hear arguments that could lead to the closing of the AKP, its leaders have renewed their efforts to comply with the EU’s requests.

    The problem with the amendment, however, is that it’s a political ploy. It was introduced just prior to a visit from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who are set to address Turkey’s progress toward EU membership, an operation that has slowed in recent months. The looming possibility of being banned from government surely motivated the prime minister as well. The timing of the news all but spells out the government’s desire to appear serious about free speech.

    But the proposal does nothing to change the substance of the law. Critics of Article 301 object to it for making negative opinions of Turkey illegal, and the amendment doesn’t reject that fact — it simply makes prosecuting more difficult. Furthermore, many object to the president’s role in judicial matters and feel he should not be responsible for bringing cases to court.

    Most Turks support both free speech and EU accession, but the small yet vocal faction of ultra-conservative nationalists have continued to run wild with this law, bringing hordes of journalists and writers to trial over the years. The amendment to Article 301 would not change the crime, or make it any less illegal to insult the nation of Turkey, it will simply make it more difficult to bring the offenders to court. Article 301, and the others in the Turkish constitution similar to it, must be abolished. Turkey must show it will do more than pay lip service to providing freedom of expression to its citizens.

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