Turkish President Gul held a coffee and chat session with journalists at his summer residence, Huber Villa on the Bosphorus on Sunday.
The president said that he had invited the journalists to explain why he had given his approval to the contentious law which allows further government control over the Internet.
Referring to an editorial in the ‘New York Times’ that had accused him of aligning himself with the ruling AKP government’s “assault on free speech”. Gul said that he was aware the editorial was “not written with bad intentions”, however, he considered the accusation to be unfair. He added that all efforts to impose bans on the Internet would be useless. “Even the Americans gave it up, as far as I know, they tried a lot after the Snowden leaks,” he said.
Gul explained that he had had two options when the bill was sent for his approval after having been passed by parliament, even though he had issued warnings that there were “a few problematic points” in the text.
“I could have chosen the easier and more popular way and vetoed it. But in this election atmosphere the government would most likely have passed it again in the same form, and I would then have had no constitutional choice but to sign it with no improvements. I chose the difficult path, hoping that I could make some improvements that could make it acceptable to me, and faced a lot of criticism,” he said.
Citing the actions of previous presidents “like Suleyman Demirel and Ahmet Necdet Sezer,” Gul approved the law and asked the government to make the changes he suggested. If the government makes no changes, he has the right to apply to the Constitutional Court for an annulment of the whole law.
However, the president is aware that it will take more than this explanation to persuade onlookers of his intentions. “It is clear that we [Turkey] are going through a time of negative perceptions. We have to correct this,” he said.
He is hoping that a government-led vote in parliament would address the problems he has spotted in the new law.
Gul is looking for four main “corrections”:
- The first one is taking back the right from the head of the Telecommunications Board (TIB) to demand the content of web communications, in addition to IP addresses.
- The second is to keep the requirement of a court ruling in order to ban an Internet broadcast, instead of the decision simply being made by the head of the TIB.
- The third blocks the transfer of personal information.
- The fourth suggests the establishment of expertise courts; “communications courts” in this case.
“The corrections have already passed through the Planning and Budget Commissions in Parliament, which pleased me. With all due respect to Parliament’s will, it is expected that it will be voted [in] on Tuesday. So I hope that we leave this debate behind this week,” Gul said.
Asked if parliament does not pass the amendments he has suggested, would he then go to the Constitutional Court to have the whole package annulled?
“I am pretty resolute [on those corrections]” Gul replied. “But at the end of the day, we have a government with a clear dominance in Parliament. I don’t expect any problems.”
However, the president will be under even more scrutiny since two more controversial bills will be presented to him before the 30th March elections. One bill would give the government more political influence over the judiciary and the other gives additional powers to the National Intelligence Agency (MIT).