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Turkey Delays New Penal Code Amid Questions About Press Freedom

Turkey's reformist government decided to delay the implementation of its new penal code, as a result of criticism from groups fearing the measure would threaten press freedom. The most controversial articles called for five-year jail terms for journalists who criticized the state, or revealed state secrets.

Turkish journalists hailed Thursday's decision to delay implementation of the penal code as a victory for the free press. The new penal code that was to go into effect Friday, has been pushed back to June 1, pending approval by parliament.

The legislation was re-written to bring the Turkish justice system in line with EU standards, in hopes of boosting its chances of joining the European Union. EU leaders widely praised the revision, and agreed in December to start membership negotiations with Turkey October 3.

The legislation includes expanded rights for women, and stiffer penalties for torturers, but critics say some of the changes are a step backward for free expression. Thousands of journalists have taken to the streets in recent days to demonstrate against the legislation.

Analysts say the government's decision to delay implementation of the code was influenced as much by the media campaign as by pressure from the European Union.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged during a trip to Morocco Thursday that his government had decided on a postponement of "45 to 60 days after demands from some institutions."