quinta-feira, 10 de janeiro de 2008

Gov’t rapped for foot-dragging on 301

Intellectuals have criticized the government for not promptly adopting reforms to remove the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness," and argue that reforming the article would not be a solution that would broaden freedom of speech.

The limits on rights of free speech are seen as a key obstacle to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Academics have said that although Article 301 has already been amended several times, it has led to the trial and conviction of many intellectuals and writers.

"Article 301 should be removed. We already have laws to deal with defamation. In democracies people speak freely, criticizing the government, state and the laws if necessary," said Binnaz Toprak, a political scientist from Bosphorus University.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Toprak said replacing the term "Turkishness" with "Turkish Nation" and the term "Republic" with "Turkish Republic" would not change anything because its interpretation would not be liberal in Turkey's current judicial system in which judges and prosecutors take a biased stance in the name of protecting the state.

A report released in late November by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) revealed that a majority of judges and prosecutors do not consider "dispensing justice" their fundamental duty because these "statist jurisconsults" see themselves as guardians of the "state's interests."

Many authors, academics and journalists were prosecuted for insulting "Turkishness" based on Article 301. Insulting "Turkishness" has usually meant opposing the state version of events on issues like terrorism and Armenian genocide claims.

Among those prosecuted, Baskın Oran said the government was not able to take an initiative to make Article 301 history because of its qualms of militaristic and nationalistic elements in the country plus opposition within its own Justice and Development Party (AK Party). "The AK Party is fearful of the military and its civilian representative, the Republican People's Party (CHP), plus the nationalists inside and outside the AK Party including the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)," said Oran, professor of international relations at Ankara University. Oran also said there were more articles of the TCK, including 288 and 318, to be handled in order to democratically deal with the freedom of speech issue in Turkey.

"The Kurdish issue will not be solved unless a new constitution is prepared in light of the changes to the TCK," Oran concluded.

İbrahim Kaboğlu, a professor of constitutional law at Marmara University, said the "state" was still the subject of discussion in the current debate around Article 301, not the individual. "In a democratic state in which the rule of law has supremacy, all citizens are subject to the same rules without making a distinction based on color, gender and descent. When you want to protect citizens against defamation, your gauge should be Turkish citizenship. But Article 301 aims at protecting ambiguous values such as 'Turkishness'," said Kaboğlu, who became the subject of unjust treatment with the publication of a report in November 2004 on minorities by the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Advisory Board (BİHB) of which he was the chairman. He was the co-author of the report together with Oran.

Kaboğlu’s press conference at the time turned into a live human rights violation when a nationalist grabbed the report from his hands, shouting that it was not legitimate and tearing it up before throwing it on the table.

In the ensuing public debate, the government distanced itself from the report while the nationalist right suggested its authors, Kaboğlu and Oran, should be charged with treason. An Ankara prosecutor opened a case against Kaboğlu and Oran for “denigrating the judiciary” and “inciting hatred.” They were both prosecuted under Article 301.

On the other hand, the European Union, which Ankara hopes to join, says tackling Article 301 is a litmus test of the country’s commitment to political reforms.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote an editorial this week arguing that Turkey’s future in Europe depends on the future of its freedom of speech issue.

Cem Özdemir, a member of the European Parliament, said Turkey was shooting itself in the foot by not completely abolishing Article 301 once and for all.

“Reforming Article 301 does not mean the same thing after the murder of Hrant Dink. We have a murdered person now because of his thoughts. The Europeans have been waiting to see what the new shape of Article 301 would be, and of course, they will observe how it’s implemented,” he said yesterday in a phone interview with Today’s Zaman.

Prior to his death, charges were brought against the Turkish-Armenian journalist Dink under Article 301. The teenager who pulled the trigger testified he had heard that Dink had “denigrated Turkishness.”

Özdemir also said Turkey’s supporters in the EU have been frozen:

“Article 301 is the best tool if anyone wants to damage Turkey in the EU. We are fighting here against the likes of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and the extreme right. Those who defend Turkey’s membership feel like their hands have been tied.”

In response to the ones who say similar laws exist in European countries too, Özdemir said: “There are folk laws protecting, for example, the kingdom in the United Kingdom but nobody prosecutes its writers and intellectuals based on such laws in Europe. In Turkey, there are prosecutors who don’t know the meaning of democracy.”

Among those prosecuted under Article 301 were novelist Elif Şafak and Nobel Literature laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Changes proposed by the Justice Ministry to the article have led to serious conflict between Cabinet ministers as well as senior members of the AK Party. The issue has brought State Minister Cemil Çiçek and Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin into confrontation. Çiçek insisted changing the expression “Turkishness” would render the article even more controversial and stated that he would never put his signature on such a proposal.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, contradicting Şahin, said on Tuesday that Parliament would not consider planned changes to Article 301 this week. Asked whether the article would be changed (this week), Erdoğan told reporters: “No, we are still working on it. It will be in Parliament once we complete our work on it.”

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