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Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab):
I heard the Turkish Prime Minister in Copenhagen this morning, and he responded to the points made to him with great candour. Does my right hon. Friend agree that seeing how Turkey's judiciary handle the chargesmisplaced though they may bemight give us an opportunity to measure that country's progress towards a mature,
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western-style democracy? The charges might be dispelled, so does not the case provide an opportunity for the country to prove that it has come of age?
Mr. MacShane: For Mr. Pamuk, the notion that he should go on trial and then see what the judge decides is rather a miserable option. Although the separation of powers between Executive and judiciary is well known, prosecutions are partly a matter for the state as well as for the prosecuting authorities. The penal code is wholly a matter for the legislature. As I develop my speech, I shall argue that we should not wait to see whether Mr. Pamuk is acquitted or given only a light or suspended sentence. I shall argue that Turkey should seize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that it is firmly on the democratic path, much as my hon. Friend has suggested.
I welcome that statement from the Prime Minister of Turkey but I would urge him now as a matter of urgency to find ways of suspending or amending article 301 of the penal code before the trial even starts. I plan to attend the trial, and I appeal to all Members of this House, and to fellow parliamentarians in Europe and the other democracies of the world, to show their support for a free Turkey by coming to the trial or otherwise manifesting support for Orhan Pamuk.
However, friends of Turkey do not want to see a drawn-out trial which, even if it ends with Orhan Pamuk not going to prison, will none the less only damage the good name of Turkey around the world. This is not simply a question of one writer: the editor of the weekly paper Agos, Mr. Hrant Dink, was found guilty by the Istanbul Sisli court and given a suspended six-month sentence for writing an article in which he was said to insult "Turkish identity." However, no one involved in the trial could point to a single sentence that justified this charge. Does Turkey really want to become the new land of Kafka, a latter-day home of Orwell's thought crimes, the kind of country where the Islamicist censorship machine would welcome article 301 of the penal code?
Even today, the Sabah daily newspaper reported that a prosecutor in Ankara had said that former head of Turkey's respected human rights advisory board, Professor Ibrahim Kaboglu, and his colleague, Professor Baskin Oran, were to charged with "insulting the judiciary" because they published a report saying that Turkey discriminated against people with separate sub-identities.
I am sorry, but in today's Europe many groups in our different nations feel that they are discriminated against. I do not know whether the human rights professors are correct, but in Europe we defend to the death their right to make their point. Alas, that is not the case in Turkey, where the state prosecutor in Ankara is invoking article 301 to prosecute those two academics, who can face prison sentences if convicted.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that I am standing in the House of Commons making a speech about a writer and about journalists and intellectuals in a country that is seeking to become a member state of the EU.
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After my exchange with Prime Minister Erdogan in Copenhagen, I was buttonholed by a Turkish MP. I did not catch his name, but he told me that he thought that his Prime Minister had gone too far in supporting freedom of expression and that Pamuk was guilty of insulting the Turkish nation. I was pretty rough with him. I said that he would not last long in European politics. If every time that someone wanted to discuss a murky episode involving the deaths of many thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people in British or French or German history because of the cruelty or racism of the state, they were accused of insulting the British or French or German nation, all debate would dry up.
Listening to that Turkish MP, I thought that I was listening to an Islamic fundamentalist from Iran, or a Ba'athist supporter of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but he was a fellow MP from a country in NATO that hopes to join the European Union. Instead of modernising Turkey, there appear to be many in Turkish politics and the judicial system who want to bring back ultra-nationalism in order to stop Turkey joining the European Union.
Orhan Pamuk, sitting and writing in that great cradle city of European civilisation, Istanbul, wants tomorrow's Turkey to look west. The men prosecuting him want to revert to pre-Atatürk days and turn Turkey's face to the dark nationalisms and censorship fundamentalisms of Turkey's eastern neighbours. When General de Gaulle, the French President, was suffering intolerable insults and abuse and calls to insurrection and the overthrow of state authority from the writer Jean-Paul Sartre, in the first period of de Gaulle's presidency after 1958, some smart French official found a law that would justify locking up Sartre and stop his inflammatory utterances. De Gaulle said only:
The idea that Orhan Pamuk will go on trial is an affront to every person in Turkey who wants that great country to modernise, reform, democratise and prepare for a 21st century future as a great Mediterranean civilisation and European nation. The decision of the prosecutor comforts all those anti-Turkish politicians in Europe who want to slam the door shut in Turkey's face almost as soon as the negotiations on EU membership have begun.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe and to our excellent ambassador in Ankara, Sir Peter Westmacott, for the clear position that they have taken on this case. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister replying tonight to make progress on the following points. He need not reply directly tonightI would be happy if he would put a letter in the Library. First, I ask him to write to Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner responsible for enlargement negotiations, to ask him to consider making a condition of Turkey joining the EU either the removal of article 301 or the introduction of some clear freedom of expression clause that would override the abusive way that that clause has been used.
Secondly, I ask my hon. Friend to continuein bilateral governmental meetings with the Turksto underline the importance that Britain, as expressed by
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the Commons and the Government, attaches to the charges being dropped. Thirdly, if the trial does go ahead, I ask my hon. Friend to help MPs and others from PEN or British writers' bodies, in conjunction with the excellent human rights department of the FCO, with travel and other costs necessary to attend the trial. Fourthly, I would like the Government, as the current holder of the presidency of the EU, to issue a formal statement expressing concern about the trial and to publish it in leading Turkish newspapers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will also consider placing a statement reflecting his reply to this debate on the FCO website.
Fifthly, I ask the Government to welcome the concern expressed by Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Gul about the decision by state prosecutors to use the article 301 of the penal code for clear censorship purposes, in breach of European values of freedom of expression. Finally, I ask our embassy in Ankara to translate and make available the full Hansard report of tonight's debate to MPs and opinion-formers in Turkey.
I deeply regret having been obliged to debate this issue on the Floor of the House. I am and will remain a supporter of Turkey's bid for full European status, but that can happen only on the basis of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of publication. Orhan Pamuk is one of the greatest ornaments to the new Turkey that is taking shape. I hope that as he reads this debate and my hon. Friend's reply he will understand that he has friends in the mother of Parliaments. We will stand by him until he and his fellow Turks enjoy the same rights and freedoms that belong to every citizen of the European Union.
The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing this debate. He is a long-time champion of intellectual freedom, as well as of Turkey's accession to the European Union, and he made a passionate speech.
I begin by officially placing on record the Government's serious concern about the charges brought against the renowned author, Orhan Pamuk. Our hope, which has also been expressed by the Turkish Foreign Minister, is that Mr. Pamuk will be acquitted at the next hearing on 16 December. I also want to register concern about the recent charges, mentioned by my right hon. Friend, brought against the authors of a report reviewing Turkey's approach towards its minority constituencies. That is a most unwelcome development.
I was delighted that we were able to open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October. That has long been an objective of the Government. We feel strongly that Turkey's prospective accession will be good for the UK, good for the EU and good for Turkey. One of the primary motivations for our policy remains our firm belief that the prospect of EU membership is providing a major impetus for a fundamental transformation of Turkey and, most important, encouraging greater respect for human rights.
With the prospect of EU membership maintained through the launch of negotiations, I am confident that Turkey's leaders will be able to continue on the path of
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reform that has brought them so far. I thank my right hon. Friend for this opportunity to focus minds on the task that lies ahead and, by citing the specific example of the charges brought against Orhan Pamuk, for highlighting the fact that we might not expect the transition in Turkey to European standards to proceed entirely smoothly.
due to the remarkable progress that the Turkish Government had made in their decisive and far-reaching reform process. Although it was widely acknowledged that the legislative framework in Turkey was much improved, it was also clear that full and consistent implementation of the reforms introduced would require concerted effort over a number of years.
The Government are convinced of the Turkish Government's commitment to reform. In response to the publication, on 9 November, of the European Commission's 2005 regular report on Turkey's progress towards accession, the Turkish Foreign Minister said:
The UK, like the European Commission, has been concerned that a number of decisions in Turkey, in relation to the expression of non-violent opinion, have led to both prosecutions and convictions. Notable among them were the charges brought against Orhan Pamuk, but also the prosecution on 7 October, mentioned by my right hon. Friend, of the Turkish writer, Hrant Dink, for insulting the Turkish identity, and the recent charges brought against the authors of a report on Turkish policy on minorities.
I assure my right hon. Friend that, in our presidency, we have raised our concern about the case of Orhan Pamuk with the Turkish Justice Minister, in early September in the margins of the justice and home affairs informal ministerial, and again when Baroness Scotland visited Ankara on 11 November. Our ambassador in Ankara raised the case with the Turkish Foreign Minister last week, and drew his attention to the exchange in the House on 1 November that concluded that further reform would be necessary. Senior Turkish politicians believe that it is inappropriate for them to intervene, given the independence of the judiciary, but
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they expect the case to be dismissed when it goes to trial. I can confirm that European diplomats will attend the trial scheduled for 16 December.
Several recent judgments suggest that the judiciary is increasingly acting in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. For example, on 24 October, a journalist, Rahmi Yildirim, who was facing trial for insulting the army, was acquitted after the prosecutor said that his article was not designed to insult anyone. International non-governmental organisations have suggested that broad and poor interpretation of the new penal code by the judiciary is, in part, the result of the vague wording of some of its articles.
The European Commission agrees with that view and has said that it is most concerned about the articles that refer to offences against symbols of the state and its institutions, including article 301, under which Mr. Pamuk has been charged. Although equivalent articles exist in some parts of the EU, it is crucial that the judiciary enacts the legislation as the political Administration intend. The Commission's regular report states:
The European Commission has also stressed that, in tandem, efforts to train judges, prosecutors and lawyers must be sustained. My right hon. Friend will know that, last year, the UK co-sponsored a project with the Turkish Ministry of Justice to train more than 8,000 judges and prosecutors in European law and human rights. It is encouraging therefore that, perhaps as a direct result of that and similar training programmes, the courts are reported to have referred to the European convention on human rights in 224 judgments since 2004. Clearly, it is of paramount importance that the judiciary fully understands the provisions of the convention. An amendment to the Turkish constitution in May 2004 recognises the supremacy of international instruments over domestic legislation, in effect, binding Turkey to the provisions of the convention, including article 10 on freedom of expression, and providing a means of recourse when poor decisions are made.
Turkey's human rights record and the functioning of its judiciary will be subject to intense scrutiny during accession negotiations, and advancement in negotiations will be guided by Turkey's progress. The UK and EU will continue to stress to Turkey the need to safeguard freedom of expression and will raise cases, like that of Orhan Pamuk, where strong disparities with EU practice are clearly evident. However, notwithstanding the fact that Turkey must address such shortfalls, we should set them in the wider context of a country where a fundamental transformation is taking place rapidly to embrace enhanced democratisationa transformation that we might not realistically expect to be achieved overnight or straightforwardly, but a transformation none the less and one of which my right hon. Friend is extremely supportive.
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The reforms of recent years in Turkey have been hugely impressive. They have required great courage on the part of Turkey's political leaders, and the challenge of overseeing their implementation could be tougher still. The Turkish Government will have to work hard to bring about the culture shift required, and they might expect to encounter points of resistance. Again, my right hon. Friend mentioned them in his contribution.
The Government, however, are of the firm conviction that Turkey's leaders possess the will to see the process of reform through to its successful conclusion. The Turkish Prime Minister has always said that the reforms are first and foremost for the Turkish people themselves. The EU process has always underpinned the process of reform and acted as a spur to it. With the launch of negotiations, Turkey has set a course to follow for the future. I hope that we will all soon look back on events
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such as the charges facing Mr. Pamuk as the growing pains of a country maturing into a developing democracy.
Having said that, it is important to recognise the here and now, and the situation that Mr. Pamuk faces. I stress the importance that the Government attach to the points made by my right hon. Friend. Clearly, the UK cannot interfere in the Turkish judicial system, but we do not believe that Mr. Pamuk should be brought before the courts. We will continue to make representations to the Turkish authorities about his case.
I will gladly write to my right hon. Friend about the specific points that he made in his speech. The Government want to continue to raise our serious concerns about the fact that Mr. Pamuk is being brought before the courts.
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