ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–A senior member of the European Parliament urged Turkey on Monday to amend its much-criticized Article 301 law restricting freedom of speech, warning that the European Union’s patience is "running out".
Joost Lagendijk, co-chairman of a joint Turkey-EU parliamentary commission, made the statement outside an Istanbul court where he attended the third hearing of the trial of 19 suspects for the 2007 murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
"The EUs patience is running out…What we expect from Turkish leaders is not nice declarations but realistic moves," he said.
Lagendijk said Turkey’s leaders had repeatedly promised to overturn the law and it was now time for them to act.
"If the case is not handled in a proper way, it will leave a stain, a dirty spot on Turkeys image in Europe," Lagendijk said, urging the Turkish authorities to also uncover the "guys behind the scene" in Dink’s murder.
Turkish officials said last month that a draft amendment was ready to be presented to parliament, but action remains to be taken as the government is focused on a highly controversial reform abolishing a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities.
"We’re preparing a report for the European Parliament which will be voted on in April and if nothing has moved by then on freedom of expression, the report will be negative," Lagendijk said.
Article 301 of Turkey’s penal code was used against Hrant Dink after he described the mass killings of Armenia’s in 1915-1917 as genocide.
A 17-year-old has confessed to his killing and another 18 people have gone on trial as associates. But there are claims that the real figures who planned the killing are not on trial.
Lagendijk told BCC he fears a public outcry over the decision to lift the ban on headscarves will be used by the government as an argument against pushing through further reform.
"They’ve opened Pandora’s box and nobody is quite sure where it will end," he said. The Secretary Florence Bellivier arrived in Turkey to attend the hearing on Agos newspaper editor-in-chief Dink’s assassination. Prior to the hearing, Bellivier held a press conference at the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association.
"Today’s hearing will be a test of human rights for Turkey. It may provide an opportunity to bring light to many human rights violations," Belliver said.