Turkey’s new penal code touches raw nerves

Turkey’s new penal code entered into force on 1 June. The code is one of the key reforms identified by the EU as a condition for opening accession talks with Ankara in October 2005. However, it continues to elicit controversy.

The revised code, which was signed into law by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on 1 June, significantly liberalises the country’s criminal justice system by increasing penalties against human rights abuses and torture. It also improves the rights of women and children. 

However, the paragraphs concerning the media continue to attract strong criticism both inside and outside the country. Newspapers and press organisations say that the revised law remains vague enough to allow for arbitrary court decisions, and this in turn may threaten freedom of expression. At the same time, they argue that the code is too restrictive on the protection of privacy, which may stifle investigative journalism.

In May, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) submitted a list of recommendations to the Turkish authorities, urging them to amend the country’s new penal code to bring it into line with internationally accepted standards on free expression. The OSCE has called on Ankara to use the opportunity to create a law that would “serve as a model for modern democracies”. 

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