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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Analysis: Turkish penal reform woes
By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Istanbul

Police break up Turkish Women's Day protest, 6 Mar 05
Turkish police were criticised for beating up protesters last month
Turkey has again postponed the introduction of a revamped penal code - just hours before it was due to come into force.

The two-month delay is all strangely redolent of the first parliamentary passage of the code.

Last September and October all seemed set fair for the passing of a new penal code to top off the extraordinary process of legislative reform that Turkey has put itself through over the past four years.

The code was to be passed just before the European Commission issued its final report on Turkey's fitness for entry into the EU - and the new code was crucially important because the old one was so badly riddled with sexual discrimination.

But then the new code hit a huge snag. Within it was a clause proposing the criminalisation of adultery - and a row broke out.

Opposition

The government's critics accused it of backwardness and Islamism.

The EU made clear its displeasure.

Journalists protest against new penal code, 17 Mar 05
Journalists fear the new law may tighten curbs on the media
And then, just as the measure was about to go to parliament, the entire code was pulled. Surgery took place.

The revised code made no mention of criminalising adultery. Instead it looked - and looks - like a thoroughly modernising measure.

Most dramatic are the changes made to the law as far as violence against women are concerned.

Rape within marriage has been made a crime. Leniency for rapists who marry their victims has been abolished. The difference between women and girls in sexual assault cases has been abolished.

Provocation is no longer a defence in "honour killings" - the murder of women accused of illicit affairs by their relatives.

Attacks on women that were once handled as attacks on the family or as creating disorder in society, will now be treated as attacks on individuals.

Discrimination outlawed

The statute of limitations for major corruption cases, especially involving government and business, has been abolished.

PENAL CODE REFORM
Assaults on women will be more heavily punished
Rape in marriage recognised
Life terms for perpetrators of "honour killings"
Jail terms for the sexual molestation of children, trafficking of human organs and the pollution of the environment
Tougher measures against perpetrators of torture
Corruption in government to be tackled
Proposal to criminalise adultery dropped

All laws will have to be in accordance with the international agreements that Turkey is party to. Discrimination on religious, ethnic and sexual grounds has been made a crime.

Privacy has been protected - the police will be punished for entering homes without good reason, the interception of telephone calls and the gathering of personal information restricted.

And heavy penalties have been introduced for environmental destruction.

At the time there was some muttering about problems with the code - that it was not clear in some areas and insufficiently progressive in others.

But by and large it was welcomed as the sort of thing that would keep the EU happy.

And it did. The Commission pronounced itself satisfied that Turkey had met the criteria for memebership negotiations to start. And the member states duly declared in mid-December that those negotiations would open in October this year.

With a few months to ponder, it now looks as if the doubters had a point.

Media anxiety

It is the media that are protesting now. They say that several clauses are so vaguely worded that they are left open to legal action from some of Turkey's rather zealous prosecutors.

Turkish MPs before debate on penal code was suspended
A move to criminalise adultery was dropped after heated debate

In particular they point to a clause which bans publication of material that might be contrary to Turkey's "fundamental national interest".

An explanation of what this fundamental national interest might be gives the example of "propaganda" promoting the withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Cyprus or acknowledgment of the heavily disputed "genocide" of Armenians during World War I.

There are other problems too.

The old press law forbade criticism of certain state institutions; the new penal code has a clause, albeit rewritten, that does much the same thing.

And journalists believe that a clause on obscenity could be used against them in ways which it is impossible to foresee.

For a couple of weeks now journalists have been demonstrating, arguing and lobbying. Late last week Amnesty International weighed in, expressing its concern. The government indicated some sympathy but only now has made its move.

So this postponement looks - though it is never good to be too confident about anything in Turkey's legislative process - as if it is just that: a delay in implementation whilst the government and parliament work out what to do with what many now say is a hastily and badly drafted piece of media regulation.

Alarm bells may have been set ringing by the announcement of postponement. The EU has said that it will monitor Turkey's human rights situation all through the membership application process.

But this does not look like a step back. Instead it looks more like the government taking time to reconsider, and perhaps acknowledge the shortcomings of its original legislation.




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