Turkey Says Law May Change after EU Deputy Probed

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday it might be necessary to change a controversial law–after nationalist lawyers used it to call for the prosecution of an EU lawmaker for criticizing the Turkish military.

The lawyers accuse Joost Lagendijk–a Dutch member of the European Parliament–of insulting Turkey’s armed forces by suggesting the military was provoking Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey in order to boost its influence.

The group has already embarrassed the government by launching prosecutions of novelist Orhan Pamuk and other writers under Article 301 of the penal code–which makes it an offense to insult "Turkishness" or state institutions like the military.

State prosecutors are investigating the complaint against Lagendijk and will have the final say on whether to bring charges.

The government is worried that the rash of such court cases is harming Turkey’s image as an open and democratic country just months after the launch of its European Union membership talks.

"There may be need for a new law? as a government we’re watching closely how the existing laws are being implemented," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told NTV commercial television.

"We’re trying to make Turkey a country in which democracy and human rights are as valid as in any EU country," he said–adding that time was needed to improve laws.

Turkey began EU membership talks in October–though it is not expected to join the bloc before 2015 at the earliest. The EU has urged Ankara to scrap or modify Article 301.

OVERSTEPPING BOUNDARY

Asked by his interviewer whether he thought Lagendijk had "overstepped the boundary" in his remarks on the military–Gul said: "I do not think so. But of course this is for the courts to decide."

Gul has in the past said he believes Pamuk–the best-selling author of novels such as "Snow" and "My Name is Red," would be cleared of insulting the state for saying a million Armenia’s and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey in the 20th century.

Lagendijk–a Green and a vocal supporter of Turkey’s EU bid–is reported to have said during a recent visit to Istanbul: "The military wants clashes with the PKK (Kurdish rebels). This makes it feel powerful and important."

The military is a revered and powerful institution in Turkey and insulting it is a crime. But under EU-inspired reforms–the generals have seen their influence eroded in recent years.

Kemal Kerincsiz–one of the lawyers pressing for Lagendijk’s prosecution–told NTV on Wednesday the investigation would be completed within a month. He said his group would take their case to criminal court if a trial is not launched.

Addressing an academic forum on Wednesday–Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowed to defend Turks’ right to free speech.

"We are determined to lift all obstacles in front of freedom of thought," Erdogan said–without mentioning Pamuk or other individual cases now before the courts.

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