- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

ANKARA, Turkey — The government backed off a plan to outlaw adultery after criticism within the European Union, strident protests from opposition politicians and a march on parliament yesterday by hundreds of outraged Turkish women.

Government leaders had proposed an adultery ban as part of a major overhaul of the mostly Muslim country’s 78-year-old penal code, which comes as the 25 EU states prepare to decide by the end of the year whether to begin talks about Turkey’s appeal for membership.

The government has been hoping to tack the adultery ban onto the draft penal code, apparently to appease Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conservative and devoutly Islamic base.

Mr. Erdogan’s government, with its strong Islamic roots, has raised concerns among some Europeans and Turkish secularists who worry that he might try to steer the country away from its more than eight decades of strict secularism, instituted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

But after meeting with a leader of Turkey’s opposition yesterday, Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said that only measures agreed upon by the governing and opposition parties would be brought to the floor — a move that is certain to doom the proposal.

Ali Topuz, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Republican People’s Party, made it clear that there would be no consensus.

“We’re strongly against the proposal on adultery, and so it will not come to the floor,” Mr. Topuz told private CNN Turk television.

The penal-code package, which lawmakers began debating yesterday, includes more severe punishments for rapists, pedophiles, torturers, human traffickers and women who kill children born out of wedlock. It also recognizes rape in marriage and sexual harassment as crimes.

Haluk Ipek, a senior member of the Justice and Development Party, had said the government would still push for a consensus on each article of its draft, “including adultery.” That looked virtually impossible, given the opposition’s objections.

The proposed ban on adultery generated strong criticism in the European Union, where there is already widespread concern about possible Turkish membership. Turkey’s territory lies mostly in Asia and its cultural profile often is at odds with the more liberal leanings prevalent across the European continent.

Details of the anti-adultery proposal have not been made public. Mr. Cicek said the measure would be applied only if a spouse complains. Mr. Ipek said adulterers could face six months to two years in prison.

The debate over the penal-code amendments could last all week. Yesterday, Mr. Cicek and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul — who met with opposition leader Deniz Baykal — refused to answer questions about the adultery proposal.

Mr. Erdogan has argued that an adultery law would protect the family and women who have been wronged by their husbands.

Women’s groups counter that such a law would be used against women — who they say could be imprisoned and could lose custody of their children. They say the measure would encourage “honor killings,” in which relatives kill girls or women deemed to have disgraced the family.

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