Turkey’s Foreign Minister Backs Amendment To Law Curbing Free Speech


The Associated Press
International Herald Tribune, France
Feb 12 2007

ANKARA, Turkey: Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Monday backed the
amendment of Turkey’s controversial article 301, used to prosecute
intellectuals including Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and
an ethnic Armenian journalist who was later shot dead.

"I want this article amended because it puts a shadow on Turkey’s
reform process," Gul said at a joint news conference with visiting
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

"It is damaging Turkey’s image. It is portraying Turkey as a country
where hundreds of journalists and intellectuals are jailed for their
speeches. This is wrong."

Gul’s remarks came days after a group of trade unions and other
non-governmental organizations proposed a new wording to the article,
which makes insults to the Turkish state or its people a crime. The
groups said the new wording would set clearer limits to what
constitutes insult and what is legitimate criticism.

Some non-governmental organizations were demanding scrapping the law
completely, but Gul made clear the government favored amending it.

"We want everyone to freely express their thoughts as long they
don’t incite violence or amount to insult," Gul said. "These cannot
be allowed. They are not allowed anywhere else."

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and murdered journalist
Hrant Dink were both prosecuted under the broad law criminalizing
the denigration of "Turkishness." Both had spoken out about the
mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century. Numerous other
writers, journalists and academics have also been prosecuted.

Dink, the editor of the minority Agos newspaper, was shot dead outside
his Istanbul office on Jan. 19 and his murder revived a debate about
the law. Many said his prosecution under article 301 had made him a
target for ultranationalist groups.

The proposal by trade unions and non-governmental organizations would
replace the crime of "insulting Turkishness" with wording that would
translate as "openly abasing and deriding" Turkishness.

Newspapers, however, have criticized the proposed amendment, saying
it would not stop prosecutions because the interpretation of the law
is often left to prosecutors, most of whom are nationalists.

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