Amnesty hits out at Turkish state’s stance on freedom of speech

The murder of a journalist in Turkey has brought one of the country’s most controversial laws further into the spotlight.

Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which prohibits “insults to Turkishness”, had three times been used to prosecute Hrant Dink, an outspoken newspaper editor who was murdered this month.

Editor of the Agos newspaper and a contributor to the influential daily Zaman, Dink was indicted for articles discussing the genocide of thousands of Armenians that took place in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, an incident that is still officially denied by the Turkish state, which says the deaths were the result of inter-ethnic strife and famine.

The prosecutions raised Dink’s public profile, making him a target for fanatics and the recipient of death threats, which culminated in his murder on 19 January 2007.

Article 301’s prohibition of insults to Turkishness is seen as a restriction on freedom of speech and a blot on a penal code that was supposed to modernise Turkey’s legal system. Opponents of the article claim that the law holds the country back from more than just the transition to a fully functioning democracy.

Despite significant progress at reform, human and civil rights continue to be a major stumbling block to Turkey’s EU accession. The high-profile prosecutions of Dink and others have led to criticism from non-governmental organisations, and further boosted resistance to Turkish accession from many EU member states.

Amnesty International spokesman Steve Ballinger said: “Nationalist lawyers use Article 301 as a way of stifling free speech in Turkey. We think that Article 301 needs to be repealed; and the attitude of the state and the military contributes to an environment in which journalists are under threat.”

In 2006 alone more than 50 individuals were indicted for statements that questioned state policy on topics such as religion, ethnicity and the role of the army.

On 28 February Amnesty International is hosting an event at its London headquarters to press for the repeal of Article 301. More details can be found at www.amnesty.org.uk.