Article 301: Victory, but beware the nationalist

Only one person has been successfully prosecuted under a law that criminalises insulting Turkishness. Surely it’s time to scrap it?
Elif Şafak
Elif Şafak
Elif Şafak
Elif Şafak

Only one person has been successfully prosecuted under a law that criminalises insulting Turkishness. Surely it’s time to scrap it?

It took forty minutes at an Istanbul court to acquit Elif Şafak of all charges against her, and this without the defendant even having to set foot in court. The judges dismissed the case because “the legal components of the offence had not been established” – or, to put it simply, the prosecution could not prove Elif Şafak had broken the law.

It means that yet another case has fallen through one of the gaping holes in Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. Save the case of Hrant Dink, who was given a delayed prison sentence, no trial has reached a successful conclusion. Surely this means the law is not watertight? Surely this means it should go?

This evening, the prime minister welcomed the ruling and finally gave way: “We can sit down and talk (about Article 301), just so long as government and opposition reaches some kind of consensus.” CHP leader Deniz Baykal made an attempt, of sorts, to jump on the bandwagon; when asked whether the article should change, he responded with a question: “Does the problem come from the article, or the application of the article?”

The answer to Mr Baykal’s question is “both”. Though despite his less than clear response to today’s ruling, opposition party sources in Ankara were saying tonight that they would consider supporting a change.

But nothing is ever black and white, and Nazif İflazoğlu in today’s Radikal went some way to show that the AKP might not have been entirely driven by a stubborn desire to protect the apparent sanctity of Turkishness. It seems there are fears that by scraping the article, the AKP will have served a strong campaign issue straight into the hands of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) ahead of next year’s general election. “The government has permitted the freedom to insult Turkishness”, the MHP will be able to cry. The government’s concern is that such a line of campaigning will go down rather well in rural parts of the country, at the AKP’s expense.

Their concern is a legitimate one. The MHP is not an unpopular party; they were a partner in government until 2002, when they failed to cross the election barrier and enter parliament. While there was widespread relief at having kept the extreme right wing out of parliament, many overlooked the fact that the nationalist vote was split almost equally between the MHP and the Youth Party, the latter of which has since become a non-entity. Their combined share of the vote is 15 percent, which – had they been united – would have placed them comfortably behind the CHP as parliament’s third party.

Regardless of whether the election barrier falls, the MHP will almost certainly re-enter parliament in 2007. Article 301 could help them even further.

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