ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish prosecutors said Tuesday they had begun an investigation to determine whether a European Parliament lawmaker should be prosecuted for insulting Turkey's armed forces, a decision likely to further strain the country's ties with the European Union.
EU officials have already criticized Turkey for putting Orhan Pamuk, the country's best known novelist, on trial on charges of insulting the country and have called on Turkey to do more to protect freedom of expression at a time when Turkey is seeking to join the bloc.
A group of nationalist lawyers last week called for the prosecution of Joost Lagendijk, the head of the EU parliament's committee on Turkey, who reportedly told Turkish journalists that the Turkish military was provoking clashes with autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels. Prosecutors launched the probe on Dec. 21, but it was not made public until Tuesday.
"The army likes to clash with the PKK," the lawmaker is reported to have told journalists in reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party. "This makes it feel strong and important."
It is a crime to insult the army in Turkey. A probe does not necessarily mean that Lagendijk, a Dutch Green deputy, would be prosecuted.
Kemal Kerincsiz, one of the lawyers who pressed for Lagendijk's prosecution, had asked that the lawmaker face charges under the same laws used against Pamuk, which makes insulting the armed forces punishable by up to two years in prison.
"Where does he find the audacity to consider himself above and immune from Turkish laws and to insult the Turkish army and the Turkish judiciary?" the nationalist lawyers had said in their petition to the prosecutor's office.
Pamuk is facing charges of insulting the Turkish Republic and "Turkishness" after telling a Swiss newspaper in February that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it."
His remarks highlighted two of the most painful episodes in Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I — which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide — and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.
Turkey's government has made EU accession a cornerstone of its rule and passed sweeping reforms of Turkey's legal code. On Oct. 3, Turkey realized one of its dreams when the EU agreed to open talks with the overwhelmingly Muslim country about joining.