Ruling AKP Under Fire Over Reform Delay

Turkey's ruling party came under fire from the European Commission and women's right groups over a decision to delay penal code reforms because of a row over its plans to criminalise adultery. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul

photo: AP
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

​​The European Union warned Turkey not to reintroduce a controversial measure to make adultery a crime, saying it would hinder the country's plans to become an EU member. The 25-nation EU had believed that any plans to make adultery a crime had been shelved but learned with concern they might be reintroduced by the ruling Islamic-rooted party.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened the executive board of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to determine its next step a day after the party withdrew two articles of the bill in mid-debate in a last-minute surprise.

The move effectively halted all proceedings on the reform package which aims to amend the country's 78-year-old penal code to bring it up to European standards and ease Ankara's entry into the European Union.

Many of the countries present laws were adopted from the Italian legal code of 1930's when Italy was ruled by the fascist leader Mussolini. One such law set to be abolished is the reduction in sentences of men accused of murdering women who they claim have brought dishonour to their families. Honour killings continue to claim the lives of many Turkish women.

Punishments are set to be increased for men found guilty of sexual harassment. Such reforms have won plaudits from the EU and civic rights organizations. But the government's first decision to punish adultery with up two years in jail has caused shock both in and outside the country.

Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, while visiting Turkey last week warned that such a law is not acceptable to Europe. He also said it will reignite concerns over the Islamic roots of the government.

At first the government argued that Turkey is a conservative society and welcomed such legislation. According to a recent opinion poll 80% of people polled support for the reform.

Emre Akif, a columnist for the newspaper Yeni Safak, says the Islamic rooted government wanted to introduce the law in reaction to pressure from it religious voters: "We are a one party government which is strongest party for at least 20 or 30 years but they did not realize any part of their program they promised their voters. They thought this is the easiest way to give a message to their voters."

But even supporters of the government expressed disbelief at the timing of the controversial legislation, just weeks before the EU commissioners publish their final report on Turkey's membership bid.

In Ankara no government official was available to comment on whether the AKP would drop the ban, as Turkey awaits an Oct. 6 report by the European Commission that will form a basis for an EU decision in December on opening bloc entry talks with Ankara.

Dorian Jones