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Europe

Turkey Alters Law Curtailing Free Speech

After years of foreign and domestic criticism, Turkey's parliament passed a long-awaited revision of a law that prohibits insulting "Turkishness." But critics say the reforms do not go far enough.

A Turkish flag flies near the Kemal Ataturk Bridge in Instanbul

The new law prohibits insulting the Turkish state, instead of Turkishness

Parliament voted in favor of government-backed changes to the law, which had been used to prosecute hundreds of writers, on Wednesday, April 30, with 250 votes for and 65 against, according to the Anatolian state news agency. Nationalist parliament members voiced strong opposition to the changes during the eight-hour debate.

The reforms make it illegal to insult the Turkish nation, rather than Turkishness and cut the maximum jail term down from three to two years.

Orhan Pamuk

Pamuk has been persecuted in his country for condemning the Armenian massacres

The European Union, which has long pressed Turkey to alter the law, also had a tepid response to the change. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso earlier this month called it a "step in the right direction."

The EU has repeatedly warned Turkey that respect for free speech will be a test of its commitment to align with the bloc's democracy norms. The 27-member EU is currently holding accession talks with Ankara in six of the 35 policy areas that EU candidate countries are required to conform to.

Turkish Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said there would still be restrictions on insulting Turkey.

"With this change, it is not a question of letting people insult Turkishness freely," he told parliament.

Few pleased with changes

EU and Turkish flags

The has pushed for reform on the law

Armenian-Turkish editor Hrant Dink, who was shot dead by an ultra-nationalist youth last year, had been convicted under article 301. 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk has also been persecuted under it for comments he made on the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16.

Turkey's far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) accused the government of betraying the country's identity, and instead pandering to EU demands that it reform laws prohibiting Turks from insulting their nation.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, whose members often end up in court for expressing views on the Kurdish separatist movement, wanted to abolish the article.

Before the parliament voted, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli told party members that reforming the law would be a "historic mistake."

"Slandering Turkey's honorable history, insulting the Turkish nation and the values of Turkishness has become a habit with the AK Party's political thinking, which lacks a sense of identity," he said.

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