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Turkish president urged not to sign draconian Internet censorship into law

Oktay Vural, a leading deputy from the opposition Nationalist Action Party, MHP, holds up a placard during a parliamentary debate shortly before Turkey's Parliament approved legislation that would tighten government controls over the Internet.
Oktay Vural, a leading deputy from the opposition Nationalist Action Party, MHP, holds up a placard during a parliamentary debate shortly before Turkey's Parliament approved legislation that would tighten government controls over the Internet.

AP Photo

Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that the Turkish parliament passed a package of amendments, on 5 February 2014, drastically reinforcing Internet censorship. Reporters Without Borders had urged legislators to abandon these amendments last month.

“This vote is disastrous for online freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “It allows the government to censor the Internet even more extensively, to monitor users and to take control of Internet Service Providers and other technical intermediaries.

“The degree of cyber-censorship was already worrying in Turkey but these amendments take it to new level. We urge President Abdullah Gül not to sign them into law as they violate the constitution and international conventions that Turkey has signed.”

The amendments to Law 5651 were approved late last night [5 February] after several hours of stormy debate. They are part of a legislative ragbag that must be voted again in its entirety after all the individual components have been voted.

The amendments adopted on 5 February would allow the authorities to block any Internet content that “violates privacy” or is “discriminatory or insulting” without having to seek a court order.

Members of the Union of Access Providers would face harsh penalties if they failed to comply with censorship orders. They could also be required to keep all user connection data for two years and surrender it to the authorities on request. See the detailed analysis of this legislation in our earlier press release.

The adoption of these amendments is all the more worrying for coming at time of intense government pressure on news providers. Two news sites run by journalists ­– Mehmet Baransu's Yenidonem and Serdar Akinan's Vagus.tv – and the Vimeo and Soundcloud platforms have been blocked in recent weeks after revealing different aspects of the corruption cases rocking the government since December.

The High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) also forced four other news websites – 24.com.tr, Gercekgundem.com, Haber.sol.org.tr and Yarinhaber.net – to remove articles referring to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's alleged role in the acquisition of the ATV-Sabah media group. The removal order also applied to nothing more than a reference to the question that opposition parliamentarian Umut Oran asked on this issue.

Last night's [5 February] vote has prompted an outcry in Turkey and abroad. Turkish jurist and Internet expert Yaman Akdeniz called it an “Orwellian nightmare” while the Union of Turkish Journalists (TGC) called the amendments “an attack on such fundamental rights as freedom of expression and the protection of personal data.”

The European Commission voiced “serious concerns” and called for the amendments to be “to be revised in line with European standards.”

The European Court of Human Rights has often condemned Turkey's cyber-censorship. In a December 2012 ruling, the Court said restricting access to a source of information was only compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights “if a strict legal framework was in place regulating the scope of the ban and affording the guarantee of judicial review to prevent possible abuses.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Turkey: Gul should veto new Internet rules

    The new law comes on the heels of protests in 2013 and a recent corruption scandal implicating senior government figures and their relatives, much of which is playing out online.

  • Turkish president should veto Internet bill

    Turkey's existing Internet law, Law 5651, has already been used to block thousands of websites by court order. Turkish authorities issue three times more requests to Google to remove content than any other country, according to Google, and Turkey is the world's worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ research.

  • Parliament passes Internet censorship bill

    When the user will click on the URL, there are three options: First, it will never open, second, it will be forwarded to another page, third, it will lead to irrelevant information.

  • Turkish Parliament restricts free expression online

    “This law gives the government license to censor on the internet whatever it doesn’t like and whatever it doesn’t want the public to know,” said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House. “It is a government attempt to limit political activity, especially debate unfavorable to the government.”

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