Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Turkish state’s legal services can reach you: Mind your words!

New “disinformation law” likely to result in mass persecution

I was in front of the Istanbul High-Security Silivri Prison when our human rights defender friends were being discharged on the 25th of October 2017. They are called the "Istanbul 10," who spent months in prison for just attending an ordinary human rights retreat on Buyukada (Prinkipo Island) in the Marmara Sea. When they finally left the prison, one of them made a joke about the situation that made me laugh a lot, but it has also stayed with me since then.

"Look at this compound Orhan," he said pointing out the Silivri prison in glittering lights, "what a 'service' this government has provided us and is determined to continue providing as long as we need it. That is something we all should appreciate!"

My friend was playing with the word "service" that the AKP government uses and loves a lot. The government describes almost everything as a service. Building prisons in every corner of the country is, no doubt, one of the great examples of service by this government. Between 2006 and 2021 the AKP government erected 227 new prisons across the country. We know from the budget for 2022 that they are planning to erect 36 new ones in a short while.

This government also gives extensive training on criminal law and procedure to ordinary citizens of this country by putting them on various trials. In the old days, this training was only given to intellectuals and writers for their articles and speeches. I know some writers who were on trial in hundreds and hundreds of criminal cases.

These writers used to turn into criminal law experts as a mandatory part of their careers. Nowadays, however, with the widespread usage of social media, tens of thousands of Turkish citizens are also subjected to systematic education on criminal law. Just look at the numbers: In the last eight years 300,000 people have been investigated for allegedly insulting the president. And in the last six years, 1,768,530 citizens have been investigated with the suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization.

The AKP government is now planning to widen the scope of this training. In October the government would like to pass new legislation called the "Disinformation Law." According to this proposed law, people who spread "misinformation" can be imprisoned for one to three years. If the court rules that a person spreads misinformation as part of an illegal organization, the prison sentence will increase by 50 percent.

I can assure you; tens of thousands of people will start to benefit from criminal law training as soon as this law passes. The prosecutors who see "insults" in the messages and speeches of more than 300,000 people and view almost 2 million citizens as terrorists, will of course immediately recognize all the people who are making false allegations about matters that are of concern to the government. People who say inflation and unemployment rates are higher than those officially announced by the government; journalists who claim that some high-ranking officials are corrupt; human rights defenders claiming that there is torture; people who say that this government is laundering Russian money and so on, will of course be subjected to training in criminal law and procedure. And this training, when it is necessary, will continue in prison. Who can underestimate such a great service to large segments of society?

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