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Turkey Drops Proposal to Criminalize Adultery - 2004-09-14

Bowing to pressure from European leaders and local feminist groups, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party appears to have shelved plans to criminalize adultery. The law would have undermined the country's chances of joining the European Union (EU).

The decision followed a meeting between two leading cabinet ministers and the leader of the pro-secular main opposition Republican Peoples Party that opposes the bill.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek told reporters after the talks they had agreed with the opposition to present the penal code package as a joint proposal.

"We have an agreement to put forward a law which guarantees rights and freedoms," Mr. Cicek said. He declined to confirm that the adultery proposal had been dropped, but observers say the agreement with the opposition would indicate the adultery bill had been dropped.

The meeting took place only hours before Turkey's parliament was to debate the measure that was to be incorporated in a broad range of amendments to the penal code.

The changes to the penal code include stiffening penalties for torturers and stiffening sentences for murderers of babies born out of wedlock. The amendments are to come to a vote before a crucial EU commission report in October that will assess Turkey's progress in conforming with EU criteria.

The report will form the basis on which EU leaders decide whether to open accession negotiations with Turkey during their last summit of the year in December.

The attempt to criminalize adultery stunned European leaders and outraged Turkish liberals. EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen termed the measure a joke. He warned that it would trigger the impression in Europe that the government is seeking to steer the country toward religious rule, while providing ammunition for European leaders who oppose what would be the first predominantly Muslim EU member.

Women's advocacy groups warned that reinstating laws that criminalize adultery would encourage honor killings of women accused of staining their families reputation. Hundreds of Turkish women, waving placards that read, "Keep Your Hands Off My Body," marched on parliament to protest the bill.

Under laws that were scrapped in 1996, women found to have cheated on their husband only once were sentenced to up to three years in prison. Men had to be shown to have been unfaithful for a longer period before being convicted of adultery. Some observers say the real reason Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed criminalizing adultery was to placate conservative Muslim constituents. They say conservatives feel betrayed by his failure to deliver on pledges to lift bans on the Islamic style headscarf in government schools and offices and to ease entry of Islamic clerical training school graduates into secular universities.