EU gives cautious welcome to Turkey's freedom of speech bill

Türkiye Materials 30 April 2008 17:14 (UTC +04:00)

The European Union gave a cautious reception Wednesday to amendments approved by the Turkish parliament on its infamous Article 301 of the criminal code regulating freedom of speech, reported the dpa.

In a statement issued on behalf of all 27 EU member states, the bloc's presidency called it "a constructive step forward".

"We look forward to its effective implementation. This step is both positive for Turkey and an indication of Turkey's continuing commitment to the reform process," the statement added.

The European executive, the commission, said it was now looking forward to "further moves to change similar articles in the penal codes" so as to ensure an end to unwarranted prosecutions.

"Now the Turkish authorities need to focus on the implementation of the reform to guarantee freedom of expression for all Turkish citizens," a commission spokesman said.

Late on Tuesday, Turkey's lawmakers agreed to rewrite Article 301, replacing "insulting Turkishness" with "insulting the Turkish nation".

The approved amendments also reduce the maximum prison sentence that courts may inflict on offenders, from three to two years, and makes the opening of court cases subject to approval by the justice minister.

The EU and human rights groups have long campaigned for changes to the law, which have been used to prosecute hundreds of writers and intellectuals. Of these, the most prominent has been Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered after being found guilty of "insulting Turkishness".

Article 301 has also been cited by opponents of Turkey's entry into the EU as evidence that it cannot join the bloc.