Turkey legalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide – Part III

Originally published in NewropMag
07 June, 2005
By Houry Mayissian

On 4th October 2004, the office of US Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who also is the co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, informed in a press release that the congressman had urged the State Department to condemn article 305 of the Penal Code (1). The congressman wrote a letter to the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, urging him to condemn the article and pointing out that its adoption is “an imprudent step on the part of a nation that is desperately trying to establish an image of having a free and democratic society.”

Given that the new penal code was adopted by demands from the European Union and considered “one of the key elements in the country’s bid to start membership negotiations with the European Union” (2). The European Union also made references to article 305 in several reports on Turkey’s membership.

On 30th November 2004, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted a proposal for a resolution on the “2004 regular report and the recommendation of the European Commission on Turkey’s progress towards accession.” In its report the Foreign Affairs Committee adopted an amendment welcoming the reform of criminal procedure, but considered that “article 305 of the new Turkish penal code which sanctions alleged ‘threats to fundamental national interests’ and the explanatory statement of which targets freedom of expression, in particular related to the Cyprus and Armenia issues, is incompatible with the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (3). The Committee called for the repeal of the article. In December, prior to the European Union summit that would give the green light for accession talks with Turkey, the European Parliament adopted the parliamentary report on Turkey’s progress toward accession. In its report, the Parliament included the amendment mentioned above (4).

The OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media Haraszti, described article 305 in his May 2005 review as a de facto censorship provision, given that it can be used to punish any speech that is not in conformity with the views of the Government on the issues listed in paragraph 4 (5). Referring to the clause about receiving benefits for spreading propaganda, Haraszti pointed out that the article does not “exclude any interpretation of journalistic salaries as pecuniary benefits for spreading propaganda.” (5)

The article was also criticized by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN, the International Publishers Association (IPA) and Amnesty International. RSF considered that article 305 “specifically targets freedom of expression” (6). The IPA sent letters to the EU Dutch presidency, Romano Prodi (then president of the European Commission) and Jose-Manuel Barroso, its new president, calling on them to urge the Turkish Government to abandon the criminalization of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide (7). IPA considered the article a move that jeopardizes freedom of expression and the freedom to publish. IPA and PEN issued in December a joint guide entitled “New Turkish Penal Code: A Long Way to Freedom of Expression”. In the guide, the organizations called for the repealing of the explanatory report of article 305 that includes the examples on the Armenian Genocide and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. The organizations pointed out:

“Allegations of genocide against Armenians and Kurds is a ground that is sometimes brought against writers and publishers. This was for instance the case of publisher Ali Varis and writer Mamo Bayram for the book entitled: ‘Kocgiri – Northwest Dersim’. This book was banned. Mr. Varis faced the risk of imprisonment. We are not sure whether the case is still pending or not. However, Article 305 of the New Turkish Penal Code will provide prosecutors with a new legal device to prevent an open and democratic debate from taking place in Turkey on two fundamental issues: the Armenian Genocide and the presence (occupation) of Turkish troops in Cyprus” (8).

Amnesty International issued an action alert on May 13 considering that the imposing of criminal penalty for statements that acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as a historical fact or call for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus “would be a clear breach of international standards safeguarding freedom of expression.” (9)

(1) Pallone urges state department to condemn new Turkish Penal Code punishing Turks who object to government’s policy toward Armenia & Cyprus. Retrieved 14-12-2004.
(2) Lungescu, O. Turkey’s quest to join Europe. Retrieved 01-01-2005.
(3) Turkey: The Foreign Affairs Committee against the European Parliament. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(4) European Parliament calls on Turkey to explicitly recognize the Armenian Genocide. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(5) Haraszti, M. Review of the Draft Turkish Penal Code: Freedom of Media Concerns. Retrieved 19-05-2005.
(6) Turkey still far from European standards of Press Freedom. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(7) IPA calls for amendment to Penal Code to allow for free expression on Armenian genocide. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(8) New Turkish Penal Code: A long way to freedom of expression. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(9) Turkey: Freedom of expression/torture/prisoners of conscience. Retrieved 19-05-2005.

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