Amnesty International: Fair guest status promotes freedoms in Turkey
But the international human rights organization criticized German consulates in its handling of visas to the fair’s Turkish visitors.
Frankfurt -- Turkey's status as guest nation at the Frankfurt Book Fair will have a positive effect on freedom of expression in the country, human rights organization Amnesty International said Sunday.
Amnesty said that the Turkish exhibition presented "not only official state policy" at the fair but also literature critical of Turkey.
"It doesn't change the situation in Turkey yet, of course but it is a step on the path toward breaking taboos," Amnesty's Turkey expert Amke Dietert told DPA in an interview as the book fair came to a close Sunday. "As long as there are serious restrictions in Turkey, we can't talk about freedom of expression."
Dietert cited article 301 of the Turkish penal code that makes it a crime to "denigrate Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey." Violators face up to three years in prison.
The article also states that anyone "who publicly denigrates the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the state, the military or security organizations" will receive a prison sentence of between six months and two years.
The article also forbids any insult to the memory of modern Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Ankara's attempts to join the European Union have merely led to greater latitude for free expression in Turkey, but "these steps have mostly been half-hearted," Dietert said.
"We have to make it clear to the Turks: It is not sufficient to make a cosmetic change here and there," she said. "Every restriction on the freedom of expression must be lifted."
Dietert criticized the German government for the way in which it gave out visas to the Turkish participants at the book fair, saying many visitors were angry at how they were treated by the German consulates.
"People felt the way they were treated was absolutely humiliating and amounted to chicanery," Dietert said.
Visitors to the fair with official invitations had to spend a week securing application documents and having income statements notarized.
The process reflected very badly on Germany, she said.