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Verheugen Warns Turkey on Adultery Law

AFP/DW staff (nda)September 10, 2004

EU Commissioner Günther Verheugen warned Turkey that proposals to revamp the Turkish penal code, which would include the return of punishment for adultery, should not divert the country from its path to EU membership.

Verheugen called recriminalizing adultery "a joke."Image: AP

EU enlargement commissioner Günter Verheugen Thursday praised Turkey for progress achieved in embracing European Union norms, but warned that plans to recriminalize adultery would be mistake as he concluded a key visit to the mainly Muslim country.

"Turkey has become a different country in the past five or ten years. There are impressive developments in many fields," Verheugen was quoted by the CNN-Turk news channel as saying. He added that some problems, such as improving the rights of minorities, remained, but acknowledged that implementing the reforms required time.

"The transformation in Turkey will not happen overnight," he said in the televised statement.

The commissioner called for greater determination to fight torture and punish those responsible, greater cultural rights for the Kurds and measures to develop the country's impoverished mainly Kurdish southeast.

But he also had words of caution for the government on a draft law which aims to bring back prison sentences for adultery, eight years after the crime was struck from the statute book. Adultery used to be illegal in Turkey until 1996, when the Constitutional Court struck the law down because it penalized women more than men. Men were deemed to have been adulterous if they were involved in a long-term affair; but women could be charged if they were unfaithful only once.

Impression of adopting Islamic law

Verheugen told the Turkish Vatan newspaper that if Turkey tries to include crimes that are not in other countries' laws in its penal code, European Union countries could interpret this as Islamic law entering Turkish law. He added that he was not "defending adultery", but said "Turkey should not give the impression... that it is introducing Islamic elements into its legal system while engaged in a great project such as the EU."

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Türkei
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.Image: AP

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim, says the bill will help protect women from deception. However, women's groups and liberal commentators in Turkey have condemned the bill, saying it would be used against women and pushes the secular Muslim state closer to an Islamic legal model.

The bill, part of a vast overhaul of the Turkish penal code, is expected to go before parliament next week where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a nearly two-thirds majority.

The government says the penal code bill, which includes a ban on torture and an extension of civil liberties, are designed to bring Turkey in line with legislation in EU member states.

"I cannot understand how a measure like this could be considered at such a time," Verheugen said. "It can only be a joke. It would be a mistake to try to restore it (adultery) to the criminal code."

The commissioner's warning came in contrast to the praise he heaped on Ankara during his visit, raising hopes over the country's decades-long ambition to integrate with the EU.

Assessment visit also prompts praise

Verheugen's official four-day visit to Turkey is an assessment trip before the European Commission assesses in October Turkey's progress in catching up with European norms.

EU Flaggen im Wind Symbolbild
European Community, 2004.Image: European Community, 2004

The report will the basis of a decision by EU leaders in December on whether the begin membership talks with Turkey, the only EU candidate that has failed so far to begin negotiations with the 25-member bloc. Turkey says it earned the right to get a firm date for the start of the accession talks thanks to the series of reforms it adopted since it was officially recognized an EU candidate in 1999.

"As I am going back to Brussels, I am certain that Turkey is really determined. We will make a fair and objective evaluation," Verheugen told reporters.