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Turkey: Article 301 Tales
by Europe & Us
2007-10-17 10:21:40
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We have been talking about article 301 since the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) entered into force on June 1, 2005. Articles 159 and 312 of the old penal code we focused on previously. In a way, we are living in a “Turkey by figures.” Legal experts designated a total of 26 articles similar to 301, restrictive to freedom of expression in the TPC. Quite to the contrary of what politicians pretend, 29 people were tried for article 301 in 2005 and 72 in 2006. We are patiently waiting to see the figures for this year.

europeusAbundance of numbers we have in Turkey. The Stock Exchange is circling around the 58.000 mark, the American dollar is floating at 1.20 against the overvalued lira; and the prospective 10.000-dollar per capita income is viewed as the remedy for all ills. People paying attention to these figures are rarely interested in the figures mentioned in the first paragraph. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is in this category; the party of “solutions come with money”…We have other figures as well: House Resolution 106 on the massacres of 1915 passed in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee with 27 votes against 21, 150.000 troops deployed on the Iraqi border, innumerable number of martyrs and non-martyrs dying in the east of the country.

But let's go back to that ever familiar 301. When did a government official say “301 will be amended” the first time and how many times was it repeated? I searched Google and found the following information: For “301 might be changed” there were 443 results and for “301 will be amended” there were 853 results. And there were only nine results about its annulment and all were statements of hard nationalists expressing concerns if article 301 is abolished. The subject was brought to the agenda on Apr. 12, 2006 by means of the 9th so-called reform package. In response to a question about if 301 will be modified, Foreign Minister at the time, Abdullah Gül, said, “No one is in prison for expressing their opinion. For now there is no need for a change in the article.” Skilful words! Just like those he, as the current president of Turkey, uttered in the Council of Europe recently. There could be no one in prison (because of 301) because one was shot to death and others are on trial or at the appeal stage! In the fall of 2006, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Cemil Çiçek, the then government spokesman and justice minister, issued sharper statements at the occasion of 301 inspired trials. On Oct. 4, 2006, the British daily Guardian reported astounding news based on government sources: “At the end of the month, a change in the article 301 is possible.” On the same day, European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, in Ankara for the first anniversary of membership negotiations, warned about freedom of expression in relation to 301. Erdogan expects a change in this article, Rehn said in his statement.

That is exactly one year ago. On Nov. 4, 2006, Çiçek said: “Article 301 is not irrevocable; it is changeable. In fact, the article has been modified seven times already. We are carrying a big bulky folder as though we are carrying an ID card.” In reference to criticisms in the EU's progress report, Çiçek said the government certainly knew that considerable part of elements causing disturbance in the EU were reported from here (sic). We are waiting what Çiçek, as the current deputy prime minister in charge of reforms will say about this year's report.Then we went through the July 22 election period. It is not right time to discuss 301, it was said. And now, we are busy dealing with the draft constitution. The government is advising impatient human rights campaigners against 301 that they should wait for full democratization, supposed to arrive with the new constitution. In the meantime, condemnations continue for the editors of Agos newspaper. In fact, the government, from the start, has never had a firm intention to change or annul articles obstructing freedom of expression in the penal code. Murder of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who became a target for being penalized under Article 301, was not enough to change the government's mind on the subject: Overwhelming majority do no demand broadest freedom of expression. In this context, changes about the public manifestation of religious symbols in the new constitution will obviously suffice for the AKP. Alongside, the government and the ruling party, by adopting a nationalist rhetoric following latest developments in U.S about the House Resolution 106 on the Armenian issue and the Kurdish issue both in Iraq and Turkey will make no attempt to extend the limits on freedom of expression. It is evident that such political preference has a lion's share in the shift of hopes into despair in less than three months after the July 22 elections. Watch out for the new figures.
Cengiz Aktar est head of the EU Research Center of the Bahcesehir University - Istanbul

(Taken from

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