Turkish government to discuss amending law limiting "unpatriotic" speech

Turkey's government will resume discussions Monday on a proposal to soften a much-criticized law that inhibits free speech, the justice minister said, in a bid to remove a major stumbling block to the country's hopes of joining the EU. Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin would not give details on the proposed change to the law, but said it was likely to be voted on in parliament later this week. Turkey's penal code makes denigrating "Turkishness" or insulting the country's institutions a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. The EU has said the law falls short of the bloc's standards on free speech and has warned it threatens to further slowdown accession talks with Turkey. Under the proposed amendment, the Justice Ministry's permission would be required for prosecutors to launch investigations into possible violations of the article, according to Turkish news reports. The term "Turkishness" would be replaced with "Turkish nation," the reports said. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was among the highest profile Turks to be prosecuted under the law, when he commented on the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century. Up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, which many genocide scholars consider the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey contends the death toll has been inflated and the killings were the result of civil unrest, not genocide. The case against Pamuk was dropped over a technicality. Other writers, journalists and academics have also been prosecuted under the law. Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist who was the editor of the minority Agos newspaper, was shot outside his Istanbul office last year, following his prosecution for comments he made about the killings of Armenians. His murder revived a debate about the law, and many said his prosecution made him a target for radical nationalists. In a report released in November, the EU called on Turkey to make progress on freedom of expression. Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but the negotiations were partially suspended last year after Ankara refused to open its ports and airports to traffic from EU-member Cyprus.