Human Rights in Turkey - Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression

See also: Censorship in Turkey

Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution guarantee the "freedom of expression" and "unhindered dissemination of thought". Paragraph 2 of Article 27 affirms that "the right to disseminate shall not be exercised for the purpose of changing the provisions of Articles 1, 2 and 3 of Constitution", articles in question referring to the unitary, secular, democratic and republican nature of the state.

Law 765 (the old penal code) that entered into force on 1 March 1926 restricted freedom of expression, despite several amendments. Law 5237 that replaced the old penal code on 1 June 2005 preserved several provisions that restrict freedom of thought and expression. A number of special laws such as the Law 5816 (offences against the memory of Atatürk), Press Law and the Law on Political Parties also restrict freedom of expression.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Articles 141 (membership of communist organizations), 142 (communist or separatist propaganda) and 163 (membership of or propaganda for anti-secular organizations) of Law 765 (the Turkish Penal Code, TPC) were most frequently used to punish peaceful opposition. On 12 April 1991 Law 3713 on the Fight against Terrorism (or Anti-Terror Law, ATL) entered into force. It abolished these provisions, but retained part of Article 142 TPC in Article 8 ATL. Journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and trade unionists were convicted under this provision, often simply for having used the word "Kurdistan".

After the European Court of Human Rights had passed more than 100 judgments finding a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights some changes were made to existing legislation. Article 8 of the ATL was abolished by Law 4928 of 30 July 2003. Another frequently used Article 312/2 of the TPC (incitement to hatred and enmity) was amended by Law 4744 of 9 February 2002. The new version narrowed the use of this Article by introducing the condition if the incitement might endanger public order. The new wording (and sentences) for such an "offence" are now contained in Article 216 of Law 5237. The sentence that mere criticism should not be punishable under Article 159 of Law 765 (denigrating Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey) was added to the law text, although this had already been established in the case law. The "offence" is now described in Article 301 of Law 5237.

After severe criticism from NGOs and European institutions Article 301 was once again amended on 30 April 2008. The amendments introduced a requirement for permission to be obtained from the Justice Minister in order to launch a criminal investigation.

Following the adoption of the amendments to Article 301, Turkish courts had forwarded, by September 2008, 257 cases to the Minister of Justice for prior authorisation. The Minister had reviewed 163 cases and refused to grant permission to proceed in 126 cases. The Minister of Justice authorised the criminal investigations to continue in 37 cases. This included one case which was initiated following a statement made by a Turkish writer on the Armenian issue shortly after the assassination of the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, Hrant Dink.

Other legal provisions that restrict freedom of expression include Articles 215, 216 and 217 of the Turkish Criminal Code, that criminalise offences against public order, and the Anti-Terror Law have been applied to prosecute and convict those expressing non-violent opinions on Kurdish issues.

Read more about this topic:  Human Rights In Turkey

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