New Turkish Penal Code, Which Could Hurt Press Freedom, Is Delayed

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(AP) Parliament on Thursday delayed by two months the implementation of Turkey’s new penal code following criticism from groups fearing the legislation would threaten press freedoms.

Eager to boost its chances of joining the European Union, lawmakers hastily reformed Turkey’s 79-year-old penal code in September to increase rights and freedoms. But press groups say other changes threaten press freedoms and could result in tough prison terms for journalists, and they have been lobbying to have the code changed.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to Turkish journalists in Morocco, said the government would need 45 to 60 days to make the necessary changes.

“This should be seen as a token of the importance we attach to the wishes of civil groups,” Erdogan said at the news conference, which was broadcast on Turkish television.

Shortly after Erdogan spoke, legislators voted to delay implementation of the code, which was scheduled to take effect Friday, until June 1.

Press groups say the legislation has vague language that could make it easier to crack down on journalists, as well as containing provisions that would make it more difficult to cover events such as legal proceedings.

One article calls for prison sentences for those who disregard the state’s “fundamental national interests.” A reasoning attached to the draft of that article specifies that calling for the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from Cyprus or saying that Armenians were subjected to genocide during World War I should be considered an offense.

Criticizing state symbols would also remain a crime.

“This is the last piece I will be able to write without any fear,” Meric Koyatasi, a columnist for the Aksam newspaper, wrote Thursday before the decision to delay implementation was made. “We won’t be able to write, express opinions or make our stance clear on many issues.”

The controversy over the penal code comes as Erdogan, who had made EU membership a top priority, is under increased pressure for what many say is his lack of commitment to press freedoms.

He has successfully sued a political cartoonist who lampooned him by drawing him as a cat entangled in yarn, and he recently launched a lawsuit against a satirical weekly that portrayed him as a variety of animals.

Earlier this month, journalists also strongly criticized Erdogan after he accused the Turkish media of “tipping off” the EU about police violence at a protest where women were beaten and kicked, after the scenes were repeatedly shown on television.

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