29th May 2022

Turkish parliament passes reform of controversial law

The Turkish parliament on Tuesday (29 April) approved a reform of a controversial law which sets limits on freedom of the speech by criminalising insults to "Turkishness".

An article in the country's penal code - article 301 - currently imposes up to three years in prison for such an insult.

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Last night, Turkey's parliamentarians voted in favour of amending it with 250 votes in favour to 65 against, according to the Associated Press.

Although all the opposition parties voted against the change, the governing Justice and Development (AKP) party, which maintains a majority of 340 deputies in the 550-seat parliament, voted in favour.

Under the approved reform, the country's justice minister will have to give his consent on opening investigations on possible violations of this law.

Insulting the Turkish nation rather than "Turkishness" will now be punishable under the new law, while the maximum sentence would be two years in prison – instead of three - which could be suspended, especially for first-time offenders.

The move was long-awaited by the EU, which had repeatedly called on Turkey to amend or scrap this part of its penal code as a prerequisite for joining the bloc.

However, critics of the reform argue that the changes are purely cosmetic and that freedom of speech will remain limited in Turkey.

"What needs to be done is to abolish [Article] 301 altogether," Fatma Kurtulan, a pro-Kurdish party deputy, was quoted as saying by AP.

It would be "illusive" to believe this amendment designed to please the EU would change anything substantial with regards to free speech, Ms Kurtulan added.

Other deputies believe that the reform is already a step too far.

"Do not pave the way for insults to Turkish values," Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Action Party, said before the amendment was passed.

Many Turkish intellectuals and writers have been tried under article 301, including Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered last year.

The reform must now be approved by Turkey's president.

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