Friday 7 March 2014

New Turkish Law Attacks Freedom of Expression, Restricts Access

Turkish President Abdullah Gul signed a law championed by embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attack freedom of expression by restricting internet access.  The law allows the Turkish Telecommunication Authority (TIB) to restrict access to websites without court order, and internet providers will be forced to monitor their users’ activities and relinquish data at the request of government authorities, according to Reuters.

During last year’s Gezi Park protests, Prime Minister Erdogan was quoted as decrying social media as “the worst menace to society.”  The protests resulted in the arrest of several dozen anti-government protestors who organized using Twitter and Facebook.   Many of Erdogan and his party’s many critics assert that the law is a self-serving, authoritarian response to anti-government sentiment.  They suspect this law helps protect the government from increased scrutiny and insulates them from leaks of information to the internet.  President Gul’s complacency on the matter, approving such an egregious bill after only minor hesitation, indicates that Turkey’s authorities find minimal value in protecting the freedoms of its citizens. 

This law is not without consequence.  This new law inches closer to demanding what the Telecommunication Authority expressed in the wake of those protests: Full disclosure of information upon request.  By allowing officials to restrict access to certain websites within 4 hours without a court order, the law could prevent future efforts among Turkish citizens to organize on popular social media platforms as they have in the past.  Although the Authority must obtain a court order within 24 hours of their initial request, the website targeted will remain offline until the court renders an opinion.  The law’s requirement that internet providers track users’ activity and then relinquish user information upon the request of the Telecommunication Authority allows the Turkish government to not only limit access but enhance its efforts to target whoever they so choose.  Given that this law was also passed alongside a law that enhances the government’s control over the judiciary, there appears a clear effort to centralize control in Turkey, not limited to internet control.

Not surprisingly, this law has given rise to protests throughout Turkey, with hundreds of thousands having taken to the streets of Istanbul and clashing with police and efforts led through Twitter feeds, according to Al-Jazeera.  Supporters of internet freedom have undertaken efforts to oppose the law through social media, generating a considerable amount of attention, and notable news outlets have raised awareness of the new legislation’s possible impact on journalism. 

Critics of the law have suggested that Turkey, which has long desired inclusion in the EU, is further distancing itself from other EU countries by restricting freedom of expression in this and other ways.  The EU, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations have all publicly expressed concern with these new measures in Turkey limiting freedom of expression.

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