A life-time political ban slapped Wednesday on former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan highlighted Turkey's determination to fight the Islamization of politics, observers said.
The ban also raised issues of freedom of expression in Turkey, which is bidding for membership of the European Union.
The appeals court upheld a one-year jail term handed to Erbakan, 74, in March for inciting racial and religious hatred in pro-Islamic and pro-Kurdish remarks he made in an eastern city during a 1994 election campaign.
Under the penal code, Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist prime minister who resigned in 1997 after a year in office as a result of a harsh military-led anti-Islamist campaign, will serve only around five months in jail, but will be barred from politics for life.
"The decision of the appeals court shows freedom of expression is very limited in Turkey. This is unacceptable," an unnamed European Union diplomat told AFP. "It is not in line with our understanding of freedom of speech."
Since being declared a candidate for EU membership last December, Ankara has come under increasing pressure from the Union to carry out far-reaching human rights reforms, but no major improvement has been recorded so far.
"Erbakan's conviction will have negative impacts on Turkey's candidacy because it displays clearly the state of human rights here," said the deputy head of the main opposition pro-Islamic Virtue Party, Mehmet Bekaroglu.
Erbakan's lawyer Yasar Gurkan said they would file a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights if a last recourse to domestic legal means fails to save Erbakan from jail.
The veteran mentor of Islamism can now only ask Turkey's chief prosecutor to review the sentence, a procedure which is unlikely to work in his favor.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who has repeatedly pledged to spearhead human rights reforms, also expressed discontent with the sentence.
"Naturally we have to respect the court decision, but we will not be happy to see Mr. Erbakan in jail for a speech he made six years ago," Ecevit told reporters. "Moreover, the party he chaired at the time has been closed down a long time ago."
The constitutional court banned Erbakan's Welfare Party in 1998 for anti-secular activities and slapped five-year political bans on Erbakan and his aides - ANKARA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)