ISTANBUL, Turkey (BP)--Turkey's decision to try two Christians under a revised version of a controversial law for "insulting Turkishness" has cast a cloud over the country's record of freedom of speech and religion.
A Turkish court received a go-ahead Feb. 24 from the Ministry of Justice to try Christians Turan Topal and Hakan Tastan under the revised Article 301 law that has sparked outrage among free speech proponents because journalists, writers, activists and lawyers have been tried under it. The court had sent the case to the Ministry of Justice after the government on May 8, 2008, put into effect a series of changes -– which critics have called "cosmetic" -– to the law.
The justice ministry decision came as a surprise to Topal and Tastan and their lawyer, as missionary activities are not illegal in Turkey. Defense lawyer Haydar Polat said no concrete evidence of insulting Turkey or Islam has emerged since the case first opened two years ago.
"The trial will continue from where it left off -– to be honest, we thought they wouldn't give permission [for the case to continue]," Polat said, "because there was no persuasive evidence of 'degrading Turkishness and Islam' in the case file."
A Ministry of Justice statement claimed that approval to try the case came in response to the original statement by three young men -- Fatih Kose, Alper Eksi and Oguz Yilmaz -- that Topal and Tastan were conducting missionary activities in an effort to show that Islam was a primitive and fictitious religion that results in terrorism, and to portray Turks as a "cursed people."
Prosecutors have yet to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms, and Polat said Turkey's constitution grants all citizens freedom to choose, be educated in and communicate their religion, making missionary activities legal.
"This is the point that really needs to be understood," Polat said. Read More