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17th Feb 2020

Turkey suggests EU should strengthen anti-defamation laws

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul has called upon EU states to extend their anti-defamation laws to ensure respect for Islam, an idea rejected by the Netherlands which also opposes a European Commission initiative for a joint UN resolution with islamic states.

The Turkish minister was attending a two-day informal EU foreign ministers' meeting in Salzburg on Friday and Saturday (10-11 March) where he opened a discussion on the dialogue between Europe and the muslim world on Saturday.

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According to a written text of Mr Gul's address circulated among journalists, he stated "We cannot afford to see that people around the world start believing that respect for faith and religion do not make part of European values, whereas the opposite is true."

Mr Gul added "As a matter of fact, there are legal restraints against such defamation. However, these restraints sometimes only apply to the established religions of the concerned countries."

"I would like to call on you here to start a process of re-examination of your legislations to ensure that these restraints apply to all religions equally."

Mr Gul's remarks appear to point to the double standards of EU countries which have legislation against antisemitism, but not against islamophobia.

Asked by reporters about Mr Gul's ideas, the Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot said "We have freedom of speech. That means that Mr Gul can say what he wants and I can say what I want. And I think that this [Mr Gul's idea] is superfluous."

Per Stig Moller, Denmark's foreign minister, said "His [Mr Gul's] only recommendation was a review of the laws. But we already have those kind of laws. So he came with a proposal which has already been fulfilled."

UN resolution

Mr Bot in Salzburg also rejected an idea by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the European Commission to draw up a common UN resolution between the EU and islamic states, proposed on Friday.

In a paper presented to foreign ministers, Mr Solana and external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner proposed to draft a joint UN resolution on religious tolerance with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

"The EU could…draft a new, joint resolution underscoring the need to promote tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect among peoples of all religions and beliefs," the paper reads.

The initiative would end the practice of a yearly "ritual dance" of the EU and the OIC introducing own UN resolutions on religion, while voting the other party’s texts down, diplomats said.

The paper explains that so far, the EU has always tabled its own UN resolution on "The Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination based on Religion and Belief", but all 25 EU members voted against an OIC resolution on "Combating Defamation of Religions."

But the initiative did not gain unanimous support among ministers, diplomats said, with a couple of states along with the Netherlands expressing uneasiness about the plan.

"The Netherlands has no need for a further precision of freedom of speech," said Mr Bot.

"A new declaration would add nothing to earlier declarations and would only make things more complicated."

"It is the highest time to start the practical dialogue between cultures," Mr Bot stated, referring to various civil society-based initatives with the southern mediterranean region and Asia.

Copenhagen is more positive on the idea of a common EU-OIC resolution at the UN, with Mr Stig Moller saying it is "woth trying to see if ends could meet."

But the Danish minister also indicated "Europe cannot accept a text in the UN which demands that we change our laws on freedom of expression."

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