The Turkish parliament early Wednesday passed amendments to the infamous Article 301 of the criminal code which criminalizes "insulting Turkishness" and which has been strongly criticized by the European Union and human rights groups, reported the dpa.
Hundreds of writers and intellectuals have been charged under Article 301, the most prominent being Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink who was murdered after being found guilty of "insulting Turkishness".
The amended law replaces "insulting Turkishness" with "insulting the Turkish nation", reduces the highest penalty that courts may give from three years to two years imprisonment and makes it a requirement that the justice minister must give approval for any court cases to actually begin.
The European Union and human rights groups have long campaigned for the law to be amended, but first reactions suggest that further pressure will be put on the Turkish government to relax restrictions on freedom of speech.
"This is just lipstick for the European Union", Eren Keskin of the Human Rights Association told the Deutsche Press Agentur. "The guts of the new article show no real changes that might affect the outcome of a trial."
Keskin, who was found guilty in March under Article 301 of "insulting the armed forces" for suggesting that the military has too much influence in Turkey, said that with the new requirement that the justice minister give permission for court cases to begin meant that investigation periods will now be longer.
"I do not want changes. I want the article annulled," Keskin said. "Stating your opinion will still be a crime".
Journalist and rights campaigner Ertugrul Kurkcu also criticized the new law saying that there has not been any significant change.
"It still leaves a lot of space for judges to decide and give their own definition of the demarcation line between criticism and insult," Kurkcu said. "The article should have been annulled, leaving no space for prosecution of writers and intellectuals."