Draconian internet laws in Turkey are deepening yet once again with a new reform package that will bring by new measures against freedom of speech in Turkey. Previously, the government has already tried to silence masses through censorship measures, surveillance of netizens, blocking access to web sites, or even raids on online news portals’ headquarters. The most recent “development” on the laws against online free speech is the most recent law draft that foresees upto 5 years of imprisonment for tweeps that criticize the government online.
The signatories of the infamous censorship bill -or as the official name refers to it as 5651: Regulation on the Publications on the Internet- have drafted a new bill and presented to the parliament floor on the evening of October 14th. The new bill will allow all the possible suspects that have so far been declared “traitors, enemies, coup-plotters” to be put on full surveillance target with just an order from a judge. The requirement of “tangible evidence” that has been asked by the courts so far is no longer in the book, which allows the judges to give the order upon “reasonable doubt”. The new law also allows properties of the government-critical suspects to be confiscated, if the accusation is criminal activity or organizing a gang.
What is Criminal?
What consists criminal activity in Turkey has long been a problematic issue and the new bill is no different than any previous one either. The main excuse in suppressing free speech in the country so far has been “worries over national security”. Crimes against the state include plans to end unity and integrity of the state, cooperation with enemy, propagating war against the state, actions against the basic national benefits, conscripting soldiers for a foreign nation, harming military premises and agreements in favor of foreign soldiers, economical and financial contributions to enemies.
If one is to be a little obsessive, in fact any attempt on strengthening of the regional governments and Europeanization process that requires this, can get to be declared as a crime against the state. And the witch hunt trials that have been going after hundreds of military officers over the years would definitely be a type of harm against the military.
Less urgent crimes that have been cited in the bill include violation of the constitution, crime against legislative body, armed uprising against the government, assembling organization for these crimes. Even though armament had been previously mentioned as a crime in another law, this time the new bill seems to reflect more onto the protection of government against all types of possible criticism. And, obviously the government would be exempt from the crimes of violating constitution when citizens’ basic rights and liberties are being violated, even though they are guaranteed under the constitution.
Social Media on Target
Threat as a crime is considered to be a much greater fault with the new law and will be punishable by prison sentence. The new bill suggests that the citizens that criticize government harshly on social media platforms are included within the scope of threatening-crime. According to the current laws, threats bring about imprisonment only for the crimes that face two years and more of prison sentence. For that reason, the government has updated the prison sentence to two years minimum. The new bill also includes clauses that state that those who criticize the president, prime minister, ministers or the security forces openly or over social media will be considered under the crime of threatening and face possible arrest. The new bill also is targeting the prosecutor who has run the graft probe of 17/25 December last year that revealed the greatest corruption scandal in the history.
Not only Internet but also Streets…
The new bill’s scope is not limited to digital public spaces but also makes opposition movements’ visibility on streets problematic. The slogans that have been adopted by critical groups on street protests had already drawn many frowning faces so far, and with the new bill they will be considered a crime. New law also breaches the diplomatic immunity of politicians, allowing them to be put on trial as well, in case of threats against public-officers, soldiers, police, governors etc. The prison sentence will possibly go upto 5 years depending on the intensity of the “criminal activity”.
Right to No Defense
Moreover, the new bill also harms the right to audience and defense principle. The lawyers will have harder time to reach their clients’ files and defend them fairly. The bill states that the lawyers’ involvement in bringing the accused’s files to visibility would breach the investigation thus should be limited upon the request of judge’s orders.
Reversal of Improvement
The draft bill will be reversing the improvements that have been achieved in the last year with regards to legal procedure, and the few positive remarks in the European Union accession progress report are being met with counter-develeopments that will present a much graver situation in the coming period. Combined with the intentions to arm the police forces with greater authority to “shoot to kill” in times of protests and plans to multiply the number of water cannons by five/ten fold as the prime minister has stated, the new bill is just another obstacle created against any kind of free speech, right to assembly, right to access information and many other rights and liberties. It seems and feels like the road to illiberal democracy -if that’s democratic at all- proceeds faster than expected.