updated 9/16/2004 8:48:45 AM ET 2004-09-16T12:48:45

Turkey's Islamic-rooted ruling party was planning to introduce a proposal to criminalize adultery despite earlier statements that the controversial measure had been shelved, Turkish media reported Thursday.

The reported decision came only two days after the party said it shelved the proposal following protests from women's groups and warnings from the European Union that such a law could jeopardize the country's chances of joining the European bloc.

According to private television broadcasters CNN-Turk and NTV, the ruling party would replace the word "adultery" with "sexual infidelity" in a new proposal.

The proposal was part of a major overhaul of the mostly Muslim country’s penal code undertaken as the 25 EU states prepare to decide by year’s end whether to begin talks on Turkey’s membership.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed it would protect families and women who have been wronged by their husbands. Opponents claimed it was a bid to appeal to Erdogan’s conservative, devoutly Islamic base and would be a step backward for women’s rights.

The penal code package, which lawmakers began debating Tuesday, includes harsher punishment for rapists, pedophiles, torturers, human traffickers and women who kill children born out of wedlock. It also makes crime of rape in marriage and sexual harassment.

EU criticism
Supporters of Turkey’s EU bid say the measures would help the cause of Europeans vehemently opposed to the predominantly Muslim country of some 70 million people joining the 25-member bloc.

EU enlargement official Guenter Verheugen warned during a visit that the anti-adultery measure would create the impression Turkey’s legal code is moving toward Islamic law.

“If this proposal, which I gather is only a proposal, in respect of adultery were to become firmly fixed into law, then that would create difficulties for Turkey,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday.

Details of the anti-adultery proposal have not been made public. Cicek said the measure would only be applied if a spouse complains. Haluk Ipek, a senior member of the Justice and Development Party, said Monday that adulterers could face six months to two years in prison.

‘Honor killings’
Women’s groups claimed the law would be used against women — who they say could be imprisoned and lose custody of their children. They said the measure would encourage “honor killings” in which family members kill girls or women deemed to have disgraced the family.

About 600 people, most of them women, marched from Ankara’s central square to parliament on Tuesday, holding banners that said “Keep your hands off my body” and “No! to the male-dominated penal code.”

Lawyer Senal Saruhan, a woman’s rights advocate, said: “It’s a backward approach ... that will allow the state to intervene in our private lives.”

Adultery was illegal in Turkey until 1996, when the Constitutional Court overturned the law, saying it was unequally applied. Under the earlier laws, men were deemed adulterers if they were proven to have been involved in a prolonged affair, while women could be charged if they were unfaithful once.

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