Turkish parliament's justice committee on Friday accepted the bill to amend the controversial Article 301, which has been seen as a restriction on free speech. The committee agreed to give the mandate of opening prosecutions under the article to the justice minister, signaling a split within the ruling AKP. The initial proposal had given the mandate to the president. Turkish Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin rejected claims from the opposition that the new amendment would bring an end to the protection of "Turkish values, state and nation." (UPDATED)
The controversial bill amending the Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code busied the country's agenda recently, was accepted following to discussion held in Parliamentary Justice Committee on Friday.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code criminalizes insulting "Turkishness." Under the amendments proposed by the government, the term "Turkishness" will be replaced by the "Turkish nation," and the term "Republic" will be replaced with "State of the Republic of Turkey."
The committee agreed to make the justice minister responsible to approve any prosecution under the law. The initial proposal by the government sought the president's greenlight for prosecutors before they could press any charges related with the article.
The committee also removed from the amendment bill presidential approval for prosecution under Article 301, which criminalizes insults against "national interests."
The bill lowers the maximum punishment from three to two years, opening the way for the postponement of prison terms for those convicted under the law.
The European Union has been calling on Turkey to amend Article 301, which has been the basis for charges against Turkish writers and journalists including Hrant Dink, Elif Safak and Orhan Pamuk.