EU: Turkey's insult law must go
6 November 2007, Brussels (dpa) - A controversial Turkish law making it a criminal offence to "insult Turkishness" must be scrapped if Turkey is to hope for European Union membership, the EU official in charge of enlargement said Tuesday. But the country has acted in line with democratic and diplomatic standards in other areas, especially the conflict with the PKK terror group, he added in an annual report on Turkey's EU progress. "It's simply not acceptable in a European democracy that writers, journalist
6 November 2007
Brussels (dpa) - A controversial Turkish law making it a criminal offence to "insult Turkishness" must be scrapped if Turkey is to hope for European Union membership, the EU official in charge of enlargement said Tuesday.
But the country has acted in line with democratic and diplomatic standards in other areas, especially the conflict with the PKK terror group, he added in an annual report on Turkey's EU progress.
"It's simply not acceptable in a European democracy that writers, journalists, academics, intellectuals or any citizen are prosecuted for simply expressing a critical but completely non-violent opinion," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said.
"The infamous Article 301 must be repealed or amended without delay," and the repeal of laws restricting the freedom of expression "should be a benchmark for opening the (EU accession) chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights," he added.
Under Article 301 of Turkey's penal code, people found guilty of "insulting Turkishness" can be jailed for up to three years. The most famous use of the law in recent years was in the case of Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, but several other cases have been brought since the law was introduced in 2005.
The law, which has been widely criticized as a breach of human rights, is seen as a severe sticking-point on Turkey's already rocky road to Europe.
"The ball is in Turkey's court to get rid of its article 301 by just doing it," Rehn said in his most explicit statement to date on the issue.
But while he called on Turkey to "regenerate the momentum" for reform, stalled in this year's political upheavals, he praised the restraint with which it had responded to terrorist attacks by Iraq-based members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in recent weeks.
"It is important to recognize and commend the restraint exercised by the Turkish government in the face of continual terrorist attacks which I and the whole EU have totally condemned," Rehn said before adding that Turkey should avoid a "disproportionate" response.
The Turkish parliament's recent decision to authorize cross-border military action in Iraq "should be seen as a part of the overall political strategy," he added.
And he also praised the peaceful end to Turkey's political crisis earlier this year, which saw a constitutional deadlock, mass street protests and snap elections.
Turkey has come through this "very difficult period" with "reinforced democratic institutions," Rehn said.
On Tuesday, Rehn presented his annual reports on the performance of the countries which have become or would like to become candidates for EU accession - Turkey, Albania and the states of the former Yugoslavia.
Turkey is by far the largest of the seven countries currently lining up for EU membership. It is also the longest-standing, having first applied for full membership in 1987.
But its size and its overwhelmingly Muslim population have made it probably the most controversial candidate for EU membership since Britain applied in 1961 - with current EU heavyweights France and Germany both opposed to full Turkish entry into the union.
Despite that opposition, EU members agreed in December 2005 on the criteria, which Turkey must fulfill to obtain full membership. Rehn stressed that the 27-member bloc should stick to that commitment.
The EU's call for reforms in potential members "only works if it respects its own commitment to prospective accession," he said.
Under EU rules, candidate countries can only become members once they have brought their legislation into line with EU laws in 35 "chapters" ranging from science and energy to external relations.
Turkey's refusal to allow Cypriot aircraft and ships into its ports led the EU to freeze talks on eight chapters related to trade and economic relations in late 2006.
And French President Nicolas Sarkozy - one of the most vocal opponents of Turkish EU membership - said in late October that more chapters should only be opened if the EU first convenes a group of "wise men" to debate the whole future of the Union.
Rehn opposed that view, saying that two chapters on trans-European transport networks and consumer protection should be opened as soon as is technically possible.
Subject: German news