Call To Action: Urge Turkey to abolish article 301


Urge Turkey to abolish article 301 in which Leyla Zana was indicted under.

Amnesty International is extremely concerned with the frequent use of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) to prosecute human rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society peacefully expressing their dissenting opinion. Article 301, on the denigration of Turkishness, the Republic, and the foundation and institutions of the State, was introduced with the legislative reforms of 1 June 2005 and replaced Article 159 of the old penal code. Amnesty International repeatedly opposed the use of Article 159 to prosecute non-violent critical opinion and called on the Turkish authorities to abolish the article.

The organization is now concerned that the wide and vague terms of Article 301 mean that it too can be applied arbitrarily to criminalize a huge range of critical opinions. It states that:

1. Public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.
2. Public denigration of the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security structures shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.
3. In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country the punishment shall be increased by one third.
4. Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime.

Article 301 achieved international notoriety when it was invoked against novelist Orhan Pamuk for comments made during an interview with a Swiss newspaper in February 2005. “Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were murdered,” he stated at the interview. “Hardly anyone dares mention it, so I do. And that’s why I’m hated.” The case made headlines across the world. It was thrown out of court last January on a legal technicality.

But the failure of Orhan Pamuk’s case is small consolation for the many individuals who currently face similar charges. Article 301 has been used to prosecute anyone (journalist, artist, student or lawyer) who expresses a view that can be construed as “denigrating Turkishness,” including criticism of state institutions or public officials.

In 2006, Elif Shafak, an internationally known Turkish writer, was brought to trial simply because of a statement made by a character in her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. Hrant Dink, founder of the Armenian newspaper, Agos, was repeatedly put on trial under this statute and, consequently, was branded “an enemy of Turkishness” in many sections of the Turkish media, helping to create the atmosphere which led to his assassination in January, 2007.

Prosecutions under 301 have continued as well. Most recently, journalists associated with the Agos newspaper, including Dink’s own son, Arat Dink, have been subject to prosecution under this law because they republished an interview that Hrant Dink gave to Reuters in 2006. On October 11, 2007, Arat Dink and another journalist, Serkis Seropyan, were convicted under this statute and sentenced to a year in prison.

Amnesty International believes that the frequency with which Article 301 is being used and the arbitrary nature of its application represent a real threat to freedom of speech in Turkey. The organization reiterates its call for Article 301 to be abolished in its entirety, thereby putting an end to arbitrary implementation of this ill-defined law.

Please visit Amnesty International to send your appeals to Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice.