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Amending Internet law another blow to Turkish democracy

2 February 2014

The Turkish government’s recent proposal to amend a law governing access to certain website which will allow the authorities to block websites without a court order and the mass surveillance of Internet users is being strongly criticised by opposition party (CHP), writers and journalists alike as an impediment to freely accessing information.

President of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) Metin Feyzioglu said that it was unacceptable that the reforms target press freedom.

“It [the Internet bill] may adversely affect Turkey’s world ranking in terms of democracy”, he said.

Deputy chairman of the main opposition party (CHP) Emrehan Halici, said the government was ignoring the bill’s critics and hastily pushing the bill through: “The CHP finds the bill unacceptable. I believe the public is closely following those efforts to restrict freedoms and will respond in the elections.”

The amendment on cyber-crime was introduced by the ruling AKP party’s deputy Zeynep Karahan, as part of a raft of amendments earlier this month.

Law No. 5651 to be amended, which regulates and monitors internet content was passed in May 2007 attracting the criticism of the EU Parliament. A report prepared by EU Parliament Rapporteur on Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten in 2012, said the bill should be scrapped because it infringed citizen’s rights to freedom of expression, access to information and permits too wide government controls.

The planned amendment to the law will enable the head of the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) to block websites by order of the Minister of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications without the need to obtain a court order.

Article 9 amendment says that natural and legal persons may apply to the TIB to block websites on the grounds of violation of privacy, without providing any requirement to monitor the TIB head’s decisions and again does not require a court order before blocking a website.

The president of the Turkish Press Council, Pinar Turenc has said that the bill should not be rushed through parliament and requires close examination.

Querying the co-incidental timing of the bill which follows attempts by the government to contain the corruption investigations on four former Cabinet ministers, allegedly involved in the scandal which became public on 17th December, Turenc said:

“We have doubts about the timing of the bill as well. Why has this bill come onto the agenda at the same time as the graft investigation?”

Writers and journalists have raised their voices against the amendment which, according to Steven Ellis, a senior press freedom adviser for the International Press Institute (IPI), Law No. 5651 was already being problematic:

“Drastically shortening the time for websites to respond to complaints and removing an independent review of decisions to block websites would likely lead to an abuse of the law by those keen to arbitrarily block access to damaging information posted online,” he maintained.

Ellis added that by introducing heavier fines for not removing content and possible mass surveillance of Internet users, were likely to impact of the freedom of journalists and others who wanted to make public sensitive information about alleged corruption or other activities involving public figures.

“We fear that these amendments could be used to prevent necessary public scrutiny of such allegations and deprive Turkish people of the information they need to ensure accountability from their leaders, undermining the entire democratic system,” Ellis said.

 

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