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ARTICLE 301 AMENDMENTS "DON'T GO FAR ENOUGH"

Reforms made last week to an article of Turkey's penal code that makes "insulting Turkishness" a crime punishable by prison terms do not go far enough, say free expression groups worldwide.

On 30 April, the Turkish Parliament approved changes to Article 301 that limit the scope of offences to those that insult the "Turkish nation" rather than "Turkishness". They also reduce the maximum penalty from three years to two, and make it more difficult to bring cases to prosecution - charges can only be brought by the Minister of Justice.

But comments seen to be "insulting" to state institutions, such as the judiciary, the military and even individual officials, can still be penalised with prison terms of up to two years.

Article 301 has been used to bring hundreds of people to trial, including Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and journalist Hrant Dink, since it was introduced three years ago. Between July and September 2007, 22 charges were laid under Article 301, mostly against journalists, says ARTICLE 19.

IFEX members, including Turkish groups IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET) and the Initiative for Free Expression (Antenna-TR), as well as ARTICLE 19, International PEN and the International Publishers' Association, have long argued that the article should be repealed in full as it represents an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression as guaranteed by international law.

"Article 301 is inherently offensive to the right to freedom of expression and should simply be repealed in its entirety," says ARTICLE 19. "It seems clear that the recent tinkering with Article 301 is aimed at improving Turkey's image abroad, particularly with the European Union, rather than addressing the real problems with this provision."

In February 2007, in the wake of Dink's murder, 41 national and international organisations active in the field of freedom expression signed a joint statement calling for the repeal of Article 301.

International PEN is monitoring the trials of around 25 writers, journalists and publishers under Article 301 who have written on issues ranging from criticism of the Turkish armed forces, to references to a genocide against Armenians a century ago.

IFEX members are also calling for the repeal of other laws that are being used in Turkey to put writers, journalists and publishers on trial or to imprison them, including Law 5816, which criminalises "insulting the memory of Atatürk", or certain articles of the Anti-Terror Law.

Visit these links:
- Antenna-TR: http://www.antenna-tr.org/dunya/guncel.asp?feox=130&lgg=en
- BIANET: http://www.bianet.org/index_eng_root.htm
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/566l9y
- IPA: http://tinyurl.com/3nxy7e
- WiPC: http://tinyurl.com/3peme2
(6 May 2008)

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