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Historian takes Article 301 to ECHR to protest threat to academic research

(BIANET/IFEX) - Taner Akcam, a professor of history at Minnesota University, in the United States, who had been investigated for his claims of an Armenian genocide, has decided to take Article 301, which has put around 100 academics, journalists and writers on trial, to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to protest against the law's threat to academic research.

Akcam argues that the investigations Turkey launches into academic research, using Article 301, are contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights ( http://conventions.coe.int/treaty/en/Treaties/Html/005.htm ), endorsed by Turkey.

Article 301 contravenes, in particular, articles 7, 10 and 14 of the Convention because it limits freedom of expression.

Facing history is not a crime but a necessity, Akcam says.

"My goal is to see Turkey become a totally free and democratic country. However, as long as academic discussions are considered criminal in Turkey, this is not possible. Facing history and human rights violations of the past cannot be a crime. Rather, they are a precondition for peace and regional rapprochement," he said.

Akcam sees his role as facilitating this process.

Akcam's lawyer for the ECHR application is International Law Professor Dr. Payam Akhavan of McGill University (Montreal, Canada), who was an advisor on the international crime courts formed to deal with the war crimes of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

According to Dr. Akhavan, "Freedom of speech should only be limited in cases of expressions of hate, not in discourses against hate."

Akcam himself almost fell victim to the notorious law. After a complaint to a chief public prosecutor's office in Eyüp, Istanbul, by a person named Recep Akkus, an investigation against Akcam was instigated by the Sisli chief public prosecutor's office (also in Istanbul). This investigation was dismissed in March 2007.

Public prosecutor Muhittin Ayata of the Sisli office had evaluated an article entitled "Hrant Dink, 301 and a Criminal Complaint", which was published in the weekly "Agos" newspaper on 6 October 2006. In the article, Akcam had written, "I believe that what happened between 1915 and 1917 was a genocide." No suit was brought against Akcam.

In the dismissal of proceedings, the court said that "the suspect is a history professor who, in all his articles and conference papers, has expressed the idea that the events of 1915-1919 can be defined as a genocide. When the article which is subject of a complaint is considered as a whole, it becomes clear that there are no attempts to degrade Turkishness, that the text remains within the framework of freedom of thought as defined by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, that there is no incitement to crime, no praise of crimes or criminals, and no incitement to hatred and hostility".

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