Turkey prepares to amend free speech law
( Reuters ) - Turkey is preparing to amend a controversial law on freedom of speech that has been criticised repeatedly by the European Union and could slow EU accession talks with Brussels.
The justice ministry will hand the draft amendment to article 301 of the penal code, which makes it an offence to "insult Turkishness", to the cabinet within 15 days, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin told reporters on Tuesday.
It was not clear when the cabinet would approve the amendment.
Article 301 has been used to prosecute Turkish writers and thinkers, notably for comments on the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 under the Ottoman Empire.
Two years ago the government tried Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk under article 301 for his remarks on the events of 1915-16, but he was acquitted on a legal technicality.
The European Commission's annual progress report on Turkey, published in November, called on Ankara to make "significant further efforts" on freedom of expression and religion, and noted that more people had been prosecuted under article 301 last year than in 2005.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has recommended that the EU not extend accession talks to the key areas of justice and human rights until the article is changed.
Critics say Turkey's centre-right government is dragging its feet, fearing that amending the law could spark a nationalist backlash at a time when EU membership is becoming less popular among Turks.
EU officials said the law was poisoning Turkey's relations with Armenia and weighing on the media and non-government organisations in Turkey.
Ankara began EU accession negotiations in 2005 but the EU suspended talks last December on eight of the 35 chapters or policy areas into which EU law is divided after Ankara refused to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.