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Ban on free speech keeping Turkey out of EU


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November 7, 2007

Ban on free speech keeping Turkey out of EU

David Charter in Brussels

A growing number of prosecutions against writers and academics is damaging Turkey’s case to become a fully fledged member of the European Union, an annual assessment report said yesterday.

The country has made little progress in the past year and its failure to end torture, improve minority rights or guarantee freedom of expression were all highlighted as significant stumbling blocks to EU membership.

Britain joined the European Commission in arguing that only the offer of full membership would bring real reform inside Turkey, but President Sarkozy Sarkozy of France, has led calls for the Muslim nation of 71 million to be offered only associate membership.

Olli Rehn, the Enlargement Commissioner, signalled a battle with those who want to end Turkey’s hopes of membership, however, declaring: “Conditionality only works if the EU respects its own commitment to the prospect of accession. Without this, we can always demand reforms but this would be as if we were speaking to the wall.”

Population growth would probably make Turkey the EU’s largest member if it joins, as it hopes, by 2020, and give the Community borders with Syria, Iran and Iraq. But there are many hurdles yet to overcome, the European Commission’s progress check said.

One of the key demands was for the repeal of Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes it a crime to insult Turkish identity. The article has been used to prosecute the Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and the murdered journalist Hrant Dink for commenting on the killings of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century.

The report cautioned: “The prosecution and conviction for the expression of non-violent opinions under certain provisions of the Turkish criminal code are a cause of serious concern. The number of persons almost doubled in 2006 compared with 2005 and there was a further increase in 2007. The Turkish legal system does not fully guarantee freedom of expression in line with European standards.”

Mr Rehn added: “It is not acceptable that writers, journalists, academics and other intellectuals . . . are prosecuted for simply expressing a critical but completely non-violent opinion.”

Yielding to pressure from the EU Mehmet Ali Sahin, the Turkish Justice Minister, said last night that a new Bill repealing Article 301 would be put before Parliament in the coming days.

Full story, Source: The Times

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