Up until 2008, prosecutions under Article 301 were a regular event in Turkey. A string of individuals, including activists, politicians, and artists were targeted under a law which made “denigrating Turkishness” a criminal act. Among those targeted for prosecution were journalists like Hrant Dink, publishers like Ragip Zarakolu, and writers like Elif Shafak and Orhan Pamuk.
Eventually, Turkish authorities, realizing that the cases were hurting Turkey’s international standing, reformed Article 301 to limit the number of cases that were prosecuted. These reforms were enough to push 301 from the front pages of international news organizations, but they provide insufficient protection for freedom of expression in Turkey. Prosecutions continue. As Turkish authorities prepare for a new round of judicial reform, the time is ripe to, at long last, to repeal this antiquated and repressive law.
As Amnesty’s latest report on freedom of expression highlights,
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal has long been one of the most problematic articles as far as freedom of expression is concerned. Up until 2008, the article criminalized “denigrating Turkishness”. Reforms replaced “denigrating Turkishness” with “denigration of “the Turkish nation, the state of the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish Parliament (TBMM), the government of the Republic of Turkey and the legal institutions of the state” and added the additional requirement of the authorisation of the Minister of Justice before prosecutors could initiate proceedings. Neither of these ostensible safeguards has been sufficient for the ECtHR to find the article compatible with the right to the freedom of expression as protected in the European Convention on Human Rights.
301 cases, like that targeting journalist Temel Demirer, have continued despite the lack of press coverage.
As the Amnesty report makes clear, “Article 301 continues to constitute a direct and impermissible limitation to the right to freedom of expression despite some cosmetic reforms…[The only conclusion compatible with Turkey’s international obligations… [is] its repeal.”
But we need your help to make this happen.
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Howard Eissenstat, St. Lawrence University