Over the past few years Turkey has passed several censorship bills that have drawn upon heavy criticism nationally and from all around the world. As censorship circumvention has also taken off, these bills have practically been un-useful and failed to stop circulation of the “banned content”. Turkish government has drafted a new bill to criminalize sharing of the banned content and enhance censorship mechanisms online. The new bill foresees “rapid” content removal as well as blocking access without a court order if the government “orders” the content to be removed or blocked access to.
According to the details of the new bill, Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), Prime Ministerial Office and ministries will be allowed to declare decisions to block access to a website or remove content. These decrees have to be met in the next 4 hours after announcement. TIB will also have access to ISP Union and will hold the key to internet nationally.
The bill restates the same clauses as the previous bills with regards to banning anti-government content that reveals corruption. The cited reasons for unwarranted access-blocking and content removal include –again- “protection of the individual’s life an possessions, national security, public order, prevention of crimes, preservation of social health.” For these reasons the government will not require court decision and simply give an order for content removal.
Sharing becomes a crime!
The new bill also makes it criminal to share content that the government has declared harmful or banned. TIB will be able to sue the citizens who create, write and share the content that has been declared banned, and the doers of this crime will be fined by the courts. The individuals who share the content are not alone in this criminalization; the ISPs will be required to comply with government “orders” and if they fail/reject to do so, they will be fined upto 500.000 TL. Depending on whether the state or individuals as a result have been negatively affected by the sharing of “illegal” content, the ISP’s certificate will be cancelled and it will not be allowed to operate.
Last year the AKP government had tried to pass a law that was accepted in the parliament, approved by the president but eventually got cancelled by the Supreme Court due to inconsistency with the international law, EU acquis, constitution and human rights. After this one failed, the government prepared a second bill which also got cancelled. The government has “updated” the clauses of the same censorship bill and drafted an even more draconian one this year.
Illegal Content in Turkey
The government insists that illegal content has to be stopped and those responsible for circulation must receive due punishment; however there needs to be made a clarification that most of the so called illegal content in Turkey refers to leaked documents proving an enormous government corruption or cooperation with Al-Qaeda. The meaning of illegal content in Turkey for some reason has mostly been very political and bills like this serve as a censorship mechanism for the independent media.
When government had tried to enhance the internet regulations bill 5651 in 2009, over 70.000 people had mobilized and had a protest rally, upon which the bill had been softened. Even though bigger protest rallies have been organized in the past year with regards to free press and internet, government has been attempting to block access to content that would weaken the government’s image before the upcoming elections. Currently there are around 100.000 websites that are estimated banned in Turkey, and unknown number of blocked links.