Turkish Historian Brings Struggle Against Turkey’s Article 301 to European Court

Press Release, Taner Akcam, Payam Akhavan

Montreal, QC, June 20, 2007 – Professor Taner Akçam, a Turkish
scholar and Visiting Associate Professor of History at the University
of Minnesota, filed an application today before the European Court of
Human Rights against the Republic of Turkey.

The complaint is based on the criminal investigation launched against
him earlier this year under Turkish Penal Code Article 301, for
insulting “Turkishness” by having publicly used the term “genocide”
to describe the mass murder of Armenians in 1915.

Despite its changed wording over time, Article 301 remains prominent
among the many enduring obstacles in Turkey’s path to membership of
the European Union. The same law has in recent years been the basis
for the prosecution of other leading Turkish intellectuals, writers,
journalists and academics on similar grounds. The most notable
victims of Article 301 include Nobel Prize winning novelist Orhan
Pamuk, recently assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink,
and publisher Fatih Tas.

The Court, based in Strasbourg, France, enforces the Convention for
the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It rules
over private individuals’ complaints against human rights violations
committed by signatory States. Turkey signed the Convention in 1954.

“Facing history and coming to terms with past human rights abuses is
not a crime but a prerequisite for peace and reconciliation in the
region,” says Professor Akçam. “My goal is to help Turkey realize its
full potential to evolve into a truly free and democratic society.
This cannot happen if Turkey continues to criminalize academic
discussion.” His legal team is headed by Dr. Payam Akhavan, former UN war crimes prosecutor and professor of international law at McGill
University in Montreal. “In a world where Holocaust denial is a
crime, state-sanctioned denial of genocide is all the more
reproachable,” says Dr. Akhavan. “Limitations on freedom of speech
should apply to hate speech, not to speech against hate.”

The Court will examine Professor Akçam’s application and rule on its
admissibility within one year. If the application is declared
admissible, the Court will then encourage the parties to reach a
friendly settlement. Only if no settlement can be reached will the
Court consider whether or not there has been a violation of the
Convention. Should the Court find that there has been such violation,
it will deliver a judgment which will legally bind Turkey to comply.