ANKARA (Combined Sources)– Turkey’s high court Tuesday handed down a six-month prison sentence to Hrant Dink–the editor of bilingual Turkish and Armenian weekly–Agos. The editor was convicted last year for an article criticizing Article 301–which punishes the public denigration of Turkishness or state authorities. This is the first final judgment based on the controversial article–reported the BBC.
The European Commission lamented Wednesday a Turkish court ruling against an ethnic Armenian journalist for "denigrating the Turkish national identity," warning the case could cloud Ankara’s EU hopes–the Agence France Presse reported.
Commenting on an appeal court ruling on Dink–EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called on the Turkish government to bolster freedom of speech in the country. "I am disappointed by this judgment which limits the exercise of freedom of expression in Turkey," he said–following Tuesday’s court ruling–the first such judgment based on article 301 of Turkey’s new Penal Code.
He noted that ruling "will set the trend for lower jurisdiction to follow when applying article 301 in the future," adding: "This is all the more serious since there are still a number of similar court cases pending. I would therefore urge the Turkish authorities to amend article 301 and other vaguely formulated articles in order to guarantee freedom of expression in Turkey," he said.
Rehn underlined that freedom of expression is a key principle of the EU’s so-called Copenhagen political criteria–which Ankara must adhere to if it one day wants to join the currently 25-nation bloc. "In any case–the Commission will review the situation in light of the Copenhagen political criteria in its upcoming Progress Report," Rehn said–referring to an annual report on Ankara’s EU preparations due in October.
Turkey began EU entry talks last October–but the negotiations are likely to take at least a decade and Ankara has been warned there is no guarantee of eventual membership.
Rehn is expected to issue a report on Turkey’s progress by early November–but he has already warned that membership talks–which began last year–could soon grind to a halt. There was international outcry when Orhan Pamuk–Turkey’s best known novelist–was prosecuted under the article.
His offense–like that of Dink’s–was speaking about the Armenian Genocide.
While the case against Pamuk was dropped on a technicality–Hrant Dink could go to prison if he commits a similar offense in the next five years. The human rights group Amnesty International says several other writers–publishers–artists and activists are charged with denigrating Turkishness.