Free speech disappears in Turkey, so does democracy, the Washington Post says

Free speech disappears in Turkey, so does democracy, the Washington Post says
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The Washington Post’s editorial board said that the new media law marks another backward step for Turkey

Free speech, thus the democracy in Turkey disappeared with the new media law approved by the parliament last week, the Washington Post said.

The legislation has clearly intended to silence critics ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June next year, the newspaper’s editorial board said in an article published on Wednesday.

It will “provide the government with new tools to criminalize journalism and online activity,” the board said, adding that the new law “marks another backward step for Turkey.” 

Turkish parliament on Friday adopted a new media law that criminalises the spread of “fake” news online. The controversial law that prompted heavy criticism for creating a censorship mechanism over dissident, came into effect on Tuesday after the presidential approval.

According to the legislation popularly known as the “law on combatting disinformation", those who are deemed to have “publicly disseminated false information regarding national security, public order, or general public health that creates anxiety, fear, or panic among the population or disturbs public peace,” will face prison sentences of between one and three years. 

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has forced into submission his country’s once-vibrant free press,” the Washington Post said.

In recent years, Erdogan’s government has jailed journalists, and pro-government businesses have taken over “once-freethinking” news outlets, “enabling Mr. Erdogan to keep a chokehold on what is printed and broadcast,” it said.

The new law “moves Turkey still deeper into the void,” the newspaper said.

The legislation, approved by the Turkish parliament with the votes of the governing allies is clearly intended to silence critics before next year’s elections, providing the government with new tools to criminalize journalism and online activity, it said.

The newspaper’s editorial board pointed out that the law that introduces prison sentence for spreading “misleading information,” lacks a solid definition of false information.

Misinformation and disinformation are challenges for every nation, but Turkey’s new media law is a “license to muzzle free expression,” the article said.

“It will give prosecutors ‘wide latitude’ to accuse legitimate journalists, as well as others, of having an ‘intention’ to create anxiety, fear or panic — and throw them in jail,” it said.

Pointing out the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission’s opinion stating that the wording of the new law is “very broad,” Washington Post cited the legal body’s remarks that was questioning if a “Post on Facebook accessible only to one’s Facebook friends amount to ‘public dissemination’? Or does an unsolicited e-mail sent to a specific e-mail address”. 

The experts warned the law could have a “chilling effect,” according to the newspaper.

Despite existing restrictions, some independent journalists in Turkey have survived with online newsletters, podcasts and videos, Washington Post said.

However, “the new law ‘greatly increases the extent’ to which tech companies ‘can be held criminally, administratively, and financially liable,’ and introduces severe sanctions for failure to comply with content-blocking, removal requests or demands for data from the government, according to Human Rights Watch and Article 19, a group that defends free expression,” it said.

“You only have one freedom; it is the phone in your pocket … if this law passes, you can break your phones like this, you will not need to use it,” the newspaper cited opposition deputy Burak Erbay’s speech at the parliament during the debates on the new legislation. 

Following the aforementioned statement, Erbay took a hammer and smashed a cellphone, it said.

“We cannot talk about democracy if the country puts their journalists in jail. Nobody should be in prison because of what they think,” the Washington Post cited Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as telling to the newspaper. 

“Nor can you build a thriving nation by locking up its most outspoken voices. The new law marks another backward step for Turkey,” the outlet’s editorial board said.