- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

ANKARA, Turkey — A proposal by Turkey’s ruling party to revive laws making adultery a crime has provoked protests from women’s groups and warnings of Islamization as the country seeks membership in the European Union.

The main opposition, the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, has vowed to fight the measure but stands little chance in a parliament where the Justice and Development Party of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has a firm majority.

Mr. Erdogan defended the measure, saying it would help to eliminate infidelity. “We believe that this is a step aimed at preserving human honor,” he said.

Although the legislation would also apply to men, a previous adultery law abolished six years ago was used mainly against women.

The ruling party, which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement, would include the adultery ban in an overhaul of the penal code, promised as part of reforms aimed at meeting European Union criteria.

“We believe that adultery should be a crime, because society also expects this,” Justice Minister Cemil Cicek was quoted as saying by newspapers.

Turkey’s top court struck down a law penalizing adultery in 1998 and said in its ruling that the law had been mainly used against women, leading to gender inequality.

Although Muslim Turkey has enshrined equality for women, rights groups say discrimination remains endemic.

The European Union is expected to criticize the lack of equality for women in Turkey in a progress report on the country’s candidacy due in October, diplomats have said.

The penal code’s other reforms aim primarily to expand rights to meet the European Union’s basic criteria for membership. Turkey is hoping a swath of recent rights reforms will convince Brussels to set a date to begin accession talks next year.

The other proposed changes include ending reductions in sentences for those convicted of so-called honor killings, longer prison terms for police found guilty of torture and new penalties for those convicted of racism and other forms of discrimination.

EU officials said the European Commission was preparing to issue a statement condemning the proposal on adultery.

Next week, Gunter Verheugen, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, will visit Turkey to assess its readiness to start accession talks.

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