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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 10:55 GMT
Turkey approves democratic reforms
Police clash with supporters of prison hunger strikers in Ankara
Turkey's human rights record has been under close scrutiny
The Turkish parliament has passed changes to the law, aimed at improving the country's human rights record and bringing it closer to EU membership.


Some limits are imposed on freedom of thought in democratic countries, but in none of them are people tried and convicted for what they say

Yucel Sayman
Istanbul bar association
But critics say the new laws, which modify anti-terrorism and anti-incitment laws, still fall far short of EU standards.

The measures caused a lot of bickering within the three-party coalition government. The key disputes were generated by the wording of changes to a clause that prohibited the incitement of hatred on the basis of class, race, religion and region.

That law had been widely criticised as blatant censorship and had been used to jail various - mainly Islamist and Kurdish - dissidents.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's party finally managed to push the package through with the rare co-operation of opposition parties, who have long called for reform.

But it remains unclear whether the compromises reached meet the EU's criteria. Turkey's human rights record has been seen as a major hindrance to its application to the Western club.

Interpretation

Under the amendments, the scope of the incitement offence was narrowed by adding the condition that it must be committed "in a way that can endanger public order" to count as an offence.

Bulent Ecevit
Prime Minister Ecevit passed the changes with the help of opposition parties
A law which made it a crime to insult the Turkish nation, parliament or civil service has not been changed but the maximum jail sentence for those found guilty has been reduced from six to three years.

Critics argue that the two articles, 312 and 159, should have been removed from the statute books altogether.

"Some limits are imposed on freedom of thought in democratic countries, but in none of them are people tried and convicted for what they say under articles like 312 and 159," said the head of the Istanbul bar association, Yucel Sayman.

Other legal experts say the definitions laid out in the amendments are vague and leave far too much to the whim of the judges.

Sensitivities

There were also amendments to laws on terrorist and separatist propaganada. Detention periods for suspects have also been reduced and in the future families will have to be informed on the whereabouts of the detained.

But the package did not include laws to implement constitutional amendments passed last year which would permit Kurdish-language broadcasting, and abolish the death sentences for offences other than terrorism and treason.

The coalition's nationalist parties remain highly sensitive about these issues.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Johnny Dymond
"It has been referred to as a mini-democratisation package"
See also:

18 Jan 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds
01 Jan 02 | Europe
Turkish women get equal rights
20 Dec 01 | Europe
Turkey hunger strikers charged
05 Nov 01 | Europe
Four dead in Turkish police raid
03 Oct 01 | Europe
Turkey aims for EU membership
15 Jul 01 | Europe
Turkey halts prison plans
10 Jan 01 | Europe
Shadow hangs over Turkish jails
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