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DIPLOMACY >Article on insulting the president ‘must change’

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The Venice Commission, the legal advisory body of the Council of Europe, has recommended changes to the crime of “insulting the president,” and “degrading Turkish nation, state and its organs and instutitons, pointing to increase in related cases and penalties tied to the first and the “vague wording” of the latter. 

On Article 299, the code on insulting the president, the resolution said “Having regard to the excessive and growing use of this article, the commission considers that, in the Turkish context, the only solution to avoid further violations of the freedom of expression is to completely repeal this Article and to ensure that application of the general provision on insult is consistent with these criteria.” 

The commision also reccommanded change in Article 301 on degrading the state and the nation. “It is recommended that the provision be redrafted and further amended with the aim of making all the notions used in it clear and specific. Further, the application of this provision should be limited to statements inciting violence and hatred,” read a March 15 report by the commission. 

The resolution came upon a request from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to “analyze the conformity with European human rights standards of Articles 216, 301 and 314 of the Turkish Penal Code as well as their application in practice,” it said.

“The commission underlines that the prosecution of individuals and convictions in particular by lower courts, which have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression, must cease,” it said over the three codes. 

“No progress has been made and [the code’s] use has recently increased substantially,” it said on Article 299, presenting examples from European Union countries. 

Insulting the head of state was decriminalized in Hungary in 1994 and the Czech Republic in 1998, the commission said.

“In Germany, although the Penal Code provides for the offence of defamation of the president, in 2000, the Federal Constitutional Court stated that even harsh political criticism, however unjust, does not constitute such an ‘offence 59,’ and the provision is rarely, if ever, used,” it said. 

In the Netherlands, it remains a crime to intentionally insult the king and certain members of the royal family, but the most recent conviction for the offence was in the 1960s it added. 

“A similar situation exists in Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Romania and Spain. In still other countries, such as Poland and Italy, although the criminal provision of defamation of the head of state has been applied occasionally, the courts have restricted penalties to a fine,” it said. In France, the press law was formally amended in 2000 to remove the option of imprisonment.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on March 2 that the number of cases awaiting prosecution for “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had reached 1,845.

Since being elected president in Turkey’s first public presidential elections in 2014, many people – including celebrities, journalists and high school students – have faced charges for “insulting” Erdoğan. Recently, opposition party leaders and members joined the hundreds of people being tried for insulting the president.

Criminal complaints against main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş were also recently filed.

March/16/2016

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