Turkish parliament approves "censorship" law ahead of elections

Turkish parliament approves "censorship" law ahead of elections
Update: 14 October 2022 12:20
A+ A-
Those who are deemed to have “publicly disseminated false information” will face prison sentences of between one and three years

Turkish parliament on early Friday adopted a new media law that criminalises the spread of “fake” news online, amid heavy criticism for creating a censorship mechanism over dissident.

The controversial law proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) introduces prison sentences up to three years for “publicly disseminated false information.”

The legislation which was seen as a move of the government to further tighten its grip on dissident, ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections that Erdogan suffers a decline in his public popularity due to economic woes in the country, also prompted reaction from international media organisations and Western countries.

What to expect?

Turkey’s National Assembly adopted the bill containing of 40 articles on early Friday with the majority of votes, despite opposition parties’ disapproval.

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. 

If a court rules that someone spread misinformation as part of an illegal organization, the jail sentence will increase by 50 percent.

Spreading misleading information to the public on purpose is a new “crime” created under the Penal Code (TCK).

Within the scope of this new regulation, sharing and retweeting posts on social media could be considered a crime. And it includes 

everyone, not just journalists.

One of the most important concerns over the new legislation arises over the legal definition of false news.

The media and law circles say that in the law, there’s no objective or scientific standards that defines what it deems to be fake or lie, warning that this would lead to arbitrary practices. 

Ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June, Turkish government aims to use this new law to put more pressure on dissident and prevent the spread of news that would further hurt its public support, according to the analysts.

And some argues that the main targets of the new law would be economists and economy-related reports. 

The polls show among leading reasons for Erdogan’s losing the electorate’s support is country’s economic situation. People blame the government for mismanagement of the economy.

According to the new law, the head of Turkey’s Information Technology Authority (BTK) would be able to demand information from the social media providers on certain “crimes.”

 If the content on social media is connected to crimes such as “sexual abuse of children, publicly disseminating misleading information, destroying the unity and integrity of the state, crimes against the constitutional order, crimes against state secrets and espionage," the social media providers will be required to share information to access the culprits.

Social media providers will also need to comply with the decision of the BTK to remove content. 

Twitter may be shut down

The chances of entering next year’s elections without social media platforms such as Twitter are higher than ever, according to Turkish human rights lawyer Kerem Altiparmak.

With this law, “either Twitter and other social media companies will do whatever the government wants, or risk being shut down,” Altiparmak said. “So, the chances of entering the election without this platform are higher than ever before,” he said.

Social media platforms will need to open offices in Turkey and keep a representative, according to the proposal. If the representatives are individuals, they need to reside in Turkey and be a Turkish citizen.

All news websites will need to save the content they publish. 

It will not be possible to do internet journalism without specifying an imprint. The rules that apply to newspapers will also apply to news websites. 

News websites will be included in the definition of "periodical broadcasting" and will be subject to the Press Law. People working for news websites could apply to press cards.

Journalists will be deprived of their press cards if they are convicted under the law.

Content that constitutes a crime against the activities and personnel of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) will be included in the catalog crimes. Catalog crimes are a limited number of crimes for which some protection measures can be applied.

The law will come into effect after Erdogan’s approval.