Turks retreat on making adultery a crime

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The Independent Online

Under pressure from no fewer than six EU governments, Turkey began to back down yesterday on its move to criminalise adultery, indicating strongly that the plan would be shelved.

Under pressure from no fewer than six EU governments, Turkey began to back down yesterday on its move to criminalise adultery, indicating strongly that the plan would be shelved.

The retreat followed a direct warning that a move to make adultery punishable by up to two years in jail would threaten Ankara's attempt to open negotiations on EU membership.

Several weeks of private advice to the Turkish government culminated in public criticism from a host of EU foreign ministers, including Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary. Yesterday Deniz Baykal, the main opposition leader, said that his party and the government had agreed on additions to the country's penal code that conspicuously exclude the moves to make extramarital affairs illegal.

Cemil Cicek, the Justice minister, said that only measures that both his ruling party and the opposition agreed on would be brought to the floor, suggesting that ministers will not push the adultery proposal. And Koksal Toptan, the head of the parliamentary committee responsible for the judiciary, said that deputies in the ruling party were not "strongly inclined" to punish adultery with imprisonment, suggesting instead that they should suffer financial penalties.

EU officials said they would wait for the final outcome from the Turkish parliament, but one added: "If confirmed, this is good news."

Mr Straw said on Monday: "If this proposal, which I gather is only a proposal, in respect of adultery were to become firmly fixed into law, then that would create difficulties for Turkey."

His words had special force because he is one of most ardent supporters of Turkey's membership of the EU. Other countries that have made plain their opposition are Denmark, Sweden, France, Belgium and Spain. A similar message was delivered behind closed doors by another supporter of Turkey's membership bid, Günter Verheugen, the European Commissioner for Enlargement.

The penal code package is regarded as mainly liberal legislation because while it includes more severe punish- ments for rapists, paedophiles, torturers, human traffickers and women who kill children born out of wedlock,it also recognises rape in marriage and sexual harassment as crimes.

The government had been hoping to tack the adultery ban on to the draft penal code, apparently to appease hardline supporters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's conservative Islamic party.

On 6 October, Mr Verheugen is due to produce his assessment of whether Turkey has made enough progress on human rights to open talks with the EU.

The decision on whether to open membership negotiations with Turkey is crucial because no country has ever been denied a place in the EU once detailed talks have begun.

The adultery law posed a concrete problem because some legal experts argue that it could breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

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