Fears that new law will stifle freedom of speech in Turkey

Fears relating to a further loss of freedom of speech abound since a controversial bill which, amongst other things, affects the protection of online privacy was passed by the Turkish Parliament.

It remains to be seen whether or not President Gul will give final approval to the bill. The Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) has called on the president for its veto. Meanwhile, Turkish NGOs, opposition parties and the EU Turkey’s Parliament have expressed grave concern about the violation of rights which include freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The TGC executive board issued this statement on 6th February:

“This regulation constitutes intervention into many rights, particularly freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and there are points which are in conflict with the Constitution. We are calling on the president to return this regulation to the Parliament.”

The regulation that has been approved by the General Assembly is giving unseen authorities to the TIB [Telecommunications Directorate].”

The amendments passed by Parliament will allow the TIB president to make the decision to block website on the grounds of privacy violation without reference to the judiciary. The bill also obliges Internet providers to keep records on web users activities for two years and hand them over to the authorities if requested to do so.

The new Internet law raises “serious concerns” over government control and the public’s access to information, the European Commission said yesterday.

“This law is raising serious concerns here. The law in its current form introduces several restrictions on freedom of expression,” Commission spokesman Peter Stano said. “The Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions.”

Stano told the press that as Turkey is a candidate for EU membership, the law “needs to be revised in line with European standards.

These issues are regularly raised and discussed when the Commissioner meets his Turkish counterpart,” he said. “We are raising these issues constantly.”

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said on Twitter yesterday that the legislation was a step back in an “already suffocating environment for media freedom.”

Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also added their voices in criticism of the law.

“Turkey’s Internet law to be adopted raises serious concerns. The public needs more transparency and information, not restrictions,” Fule wrote on his Twitter account yesterday both in English and in Turkish. “Also, the EU must raise our serious concern over the new Turkey Internet law,” Bildt wrote via Twitter.

Turkish opposition Nationalist Movement Party’s deputy, Celal Adan described the new law as, “nothing more than a blacklisting via the Internet.”

The regulation is nothing but an ‘Internet blacklisting.’ Freedom of the press and freedom of communication are under pressure. There are attempts to bring freedoms which are indispensable parts of democracy under the control of the state and the government,” said Adan.

President Gul has held a meeting with the Communications Minister Lutfi Elvan to discuss the bill.

Elvan however, claims that the new law would not result in any bans or censorship on the Internet, saying instead that regulations were needed to protect the confidentiality of private life.

He also said the new regulations would enable the courts to decide to block certain content in relevant websites instead of blocking whole pages.

He also claimed that the current law did not protect privacy as individuals had to wait two days after complaints for the removal of offensive content.

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