Threats to Freedom of Press in Pending Turkish Penal Code

ANKARA (Combined Sources)–The Turkish parliament adjourned late last week without passing key reforms to its penal code–something the European Commission has said is necessary to the country’s bid to join the 25-nation trade bloc.

The debate in Turkish parliament stalled as legislators disputed whether to include a provision criminalizing adultery–something the EU also opposes.

The Istanbul-based Armenian newspaper Marmara reports that the pending package includes two very controversial articles–passed earlier by parliament–dealing with the freedom of expression and freedom of press; the articles call for punishment of imprisonment for writings and announcemen’s that appear in the press–that counter Turkey’s national interests.

Articles 5 and 6 of paragraph 127 of Turkey’s penal code even cite literal examples of what would be punishable under that code. Publishing for example–writings that read: "The Turkish army must pull-out of Cyprus," or "Armenia’s were subject to genocide during the Ottoman Empire," fall into the category of going against national interests–and call for imprisonment.

In debating the proposals–certain parliament members suggested softening the tone of the articles–but they passed intact.

What is even more interesting is that Turkey–in its bid to join the EU–recently passed laws banning imprisonment for any acts concerning freedom of press.

Marmara reports that in all–the penal code under consideration contains 20 articles that hinder freedom of press in Turkey.

But EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on Sunday that the European Union will not open membership talks with Turkey unless the country passes a human-rights reform package–his strongest remarks on the issue so far.

The commission is expected to present on October 6–its recommendation on whether to start entry talks with Turkey–and Verheugen said it would recommend against it unless the package is passed.

"The criminal reforms are an indispensable pre-requisite for the establishment of membership negotiations," Verheugen said.

"Only with these reforms can we certify that Turkey is a just state in which human rights are taken into account. The commission will make it clear that the membership negotiations cannot come so long as this central element is not fulfilled."

If they do include the provision–Verheugen said it "would with certainty not survive the membership negotiations."

"Now comes the moment of truth," Verheugen said. "Turkey must find the strength to reconcile traditional Turkish values with European values. European values are non-negotiable."

Verheugen even summoned the Turkish ambassador on Saturday to ask for clarification on Ankara’s position on the code.

The summons followed a public dispute between Verheugen and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan last week–when Erdogan bluntly told the EU to stop meddling in Turkish affairs. The two will probably meet in Brussels on Thursday.

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