301 concerns resurface in Dink trial

Turkey Materials 2 October 2007 23:51

( Todayszaman ) The Istanbul 14th Criminal Court on Monday resumed the trial of suspects in the killing of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in a case that brought up discussions on the Turkish Penal Code's (TCK) Article 301, under which Dink was convicted and which is also seen as a test of the judiciary in investigating possible negligence by authorities.

Demonstrators at his funeral in January carried banners reading "301 is the murderer," after Dink was shot dead in broad daylight in front of his newspaper Agos ' office. " Hrant Dink's death is linked to 301," said Claudia Roth, a leader of the German opposition Greens, who is in Istanbul to attend the hearing. "It was 301 that killed him, and that's why I am here."

European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn also made a statement on Monday emphasizing the EU's sensitivity about changing 301. He said the European Union has been waiting for a change since 2004 and called on the government to either abolish the article or review it as necessary without further delay.

Article 301, which criminalizes "insulting Turkishness ," is seen as a serious obstacle to freedom of speech in Turkey by Turkish intellectuals and the European Union. In addition to Dink, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and novelist Elif Safak stood trial under Article 301; however, the government has still not made any visible moves to amend it.

But that situation might be changing, sources close to the government indicate, claiming that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is considering changes to the infamous article. The AK Party has reportedly sought alternative texts for the article from two prominent jurists, Former dead of the Supreme Court of Appeals Sami Selcuk and Professor Izzet Ozgenc , one of the architects of the TCK.

The government is now expected to replace Article 301 by one of two alternative texts, or combine the two, which are very similar, in a new paragraph.

One of the points common to Article 301 in the alternative paragraphs proposed by Selcuk and Ozgenc is replacing the concept of " Turkishness " with the word "Turkish nation," and replacing the word "Republic," with the expression "the State of the Turkish Republic." Both jurists believe that prosecutors should require special permission from a higher authority to start a probe under 301, but the authorities they point to differ significantly. While Selcuk believes this authority should lie with the president as the head of state, Professor Ozgenc defends that it should lie with the minister of justice, as it previously used to. In January of last year, the government requested all civil society organizations to agree on an alternative paragraph to modify the article, but civil groups failed to reach consensus on a single text. Most experts propose one of two possible methods to alleviate the problems caused by 301. A number of legal experts and a significant number of civil society organizations would like to see the article abolished entirely. The European Union is also of that opinion. A second opinion is to amend the article instead of removing it from the penal code, which is what the government is likely to opt for.