The Republic of Turkey begins 2007 with a somewhat uncertain future. Whether the country is granted full acceptance into the European Community this year depends on several factors, especially the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which deals with one of the most basic of civil liberties: freedom of expression.
Numerous worldwide organizations — Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, International Freedom of Expression Exchange and Amnesty International — have issued public statements strongly opposing the code because it punishes citizens and journalists who criticize the country or its policies.
The law, enacted last year, states broadly that “Public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.”
Several prominent journalists and authors, including 2006 Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have been arrested and charged with violating Article 301. Read more online by searching for “Turkey: Nationalism and the Press” at www.cpj.org.
State of the media
* The European Union continues to censure Turkey because the country does not allow acceptable levels of freedom for all citizens, especially the media.
According to Reporters Without Borders, a recent commission report said, “Freedom of expression in line with European standards is not yet guaranteed by the present legal framework.”
Despite legal reforms implemented more than a year ago, 65 people have been prosecuted for criticizing the government.
* After being held for nine months, two journalists were released following a fifth hearing on charges of collaborating with an illegal Kurdish group.
The two women were set free in November but face another hearing in February. They were arrested in February 2006 as they returned from covering a demonstration for a religious leader jailed in 1999.
Police said the reporters had explosive materials inside their car.
In the news
* Turkey’s prime minister has repeatedly criticized the European Union for slowing talks on Turkey’s full acceptance into the union. Negotiations in eight of 35 diplomatic areas have stalled recently because Turkey failed to open its sea and air ports to neighboring Cyprus as previously agreed.
* The International Monetary Fund has granted Turkey approval of $1.13 billion in new credit, the first portion of a $10 billion package put together last year.
The IMF says it will be closely monitoring the country’s economy throughout the year, especially during the first half of 2007 during the presidential election.
A general election will follow later this year.
* The Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923, is composed of 81 provinces, with Ankara as the capital.
* The country is slightly larger than Texas. The highest point is Mount Ararat along the eastern border with Iran.
* Population is about 70 million.
* The country remains an associate member of the European Union and is seeking full accession.
* For more details on the government, economy and natural resources, visit www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook and select Turkey from the drop-down menu.
Turkey has been a country of unrest during the past half century, with coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. More recently, the government has had to deal with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has attempted to create an independent state in the east. By 1999, about 30,000 people had died in the fighting. More problems surfaced in 1974 when the military invaded Northern Cyprus and seized control of the area. See an interactive timeline at www.guardian.co.uk; click on “Interactive guides” and scroll down to “A brief history of Turkey.”