Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Monday backed the amendment of Turkey's controversial article 301, used to prosecute intellectuals including Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and an ethnic Armenian journalist who was later shot dead.
"I want this article amended because it puts a shadow on Turkey's reform process," Gul said at a joint news conference with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. "It is damaging Turkey's image. It is portraying Turkey as a country where hundreds of journalists and intellectuals are jailed for their speeches. This is wrong."
Gul's remarks came days after a group of trade unions and other non-governmental organizations proposed a new wording to the article, which makes insults to the Turkish state or its people a crime. The groups said the new wording would set clearer limits to what constitutes insult and what is legitimate criticism.
Some non-governmental organizations were demanding scrapping the law completely, but Gul made clear the government favored amending it. "We want everyone to freely express their thoughts as long they don't incite violence or amount to insult," Gul said. "These cannot be allowed. They are not allowed anywhere else."
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and murdered journalist Hrant Dink were both prosecuted under the broad law criminalizing the denigration of "Turkishness." Both had spoken out about the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century. Numerous other writers, journalists and academics have also been prosecuted.
Dink, the editor of the minority Agos newspaper, was shot dead outside his Istanbul office on Jan. 19 and his murder revived a debate about the law. Many said his prosecution under article 301 had made him a target for ultranationalist groups.
On Saturday, police detained two men on suspicions that they were planning to hold up an Istanbul ferry to protest the fact that pro-Armenian slogans had been chanted at Dink’s funeral. An Istanbul court ordered the two men released after questioning, saying there was not enough evidence to charge them.
Acting on a tip, police detained the two men at the city's entrance Saturday, a police official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar civil servants from speaking to reporters without prior authorization.
Police said the two men - from the eastern city of Igdir, near the borders with Iran and Armenia - allegedly planned to hijack a ferry sailing between the Asian and European shores of the Bosporus, copying a ferry hijacking last month in the Dardanelles strait, police said. That hijacker had threatened to blow the ferry up in protesting the pro-American slogans. He had been carrying a gun, but no explosives, and after about 2½ hours surrendered to police. No passengers were harmed.
As the two men detained Saturday left the courthouse, they shouted: "Turks have no other friends but Turks!" the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Dink’s funeral inspired a massive outpouring of support for reconciliation between Armenians and Turks, with thousands chanting "We're all Armenians." Nationalists however, were angered by the pro-Armenian slogans.