Turkish government has tried repeatedly over the course of years, to pass restrictive bills that suggest draconian measures to interrupt free flow of information on the internet, thus legalize censorship. Year after year a new bill has been drafted and brought to parliament floor, dozens of thousands protested each time, opposition parties united in standing against government’s censorship attempts, bill would pass and president would sign it off immediately, enabling the effectiveness of the bill. Eventually persistent protests would Show results and opposition parties would apply to the supreme court and court decisions would cancel the bills.
The past few weeks in Turkey’s political agenda has been of a very different nature than what even the Turkish citizens have been used to. First there came the homeland security bill, then passed the prison security bill and now finally we have the internet security bill once again. All these crucial bills have come almost simultaneously. Due to fast-approaching national elections in early June, members of parliament from the opposition parties have already started campaigning and participating in premieres, thus unable to form proper opposition in the parliament. Then again, what good is it when the governing AKP holds close to 2/3 majority in the house with less than half of the votes in the elections.
Even though there has been taken some measures by the opposition to use all legislative methods and means to block the debate on the bill, thus postponing the vote, government has not allowed the debate to take place and directly passed the bills. The internet bill “censorship 3.0” has come all of a sudden when the nation was discussing elections, Kurdish peace process, homeland security bill, prison bill, upcoming centennial of Armenian Genocide Commemoration, etc.
The opposition deputies declare the internet bill as a precaution that the government has brought up in order to have “quiet” during the election period, and not allow any protests or opposition rallies en-masse. Previously, every time the internet bill had failed, the new draft had become even harsher, bringing further mechanisms and tools of censorship into play. The new bill openly states the methods of full government control and bypassing of courts, rules and regulations, violating citizens basic rights and liberties. Supreme court had already cancelled the bill previously when it was less obvious than the new bill, and how the court members will behave now will determine the direction of free speech in Turkey.
The government on the other hand uses the same excuses to legitimize the will to censor critical voices: “what will happen if children become victims of online harassment, or what will happen if someone insults the ‘untouchable’ figures, and if someone’s basic rights get violated online?” Thus the government suggests that a bill is necessary to directly block access to a website without a court order or further evaluation for up to 48 hours, which will then be followed by access-blocking with the court order. The bill does not specifically mention how long a site will be closed down as it is not stated in the bill.
Member of the parliament from the governing AK Party, Özel has stated that free flow of information may sound nice but politicians and citizens should not be naive to expect unregulated freedom, as unreal propaganda also has tendency to spread very quickly if there is no such control mechanism. Özel also went ahead to defend the bill saying “this bill does not turn our President or Prime Minister into a judge or prosecutor, it merely allows them with authority to shut down access to harmful content; in the aftermath of the incident we would still g oto courts to get warrant to block access. And, the supreme court this time will not cancel the bill.”
The renewed internet bill suggests:
“Updating the Bill on Regulating the Publications on Internet and Combating Cyber Crime, the foreseen changes will enable Prime Ministerial or any ministerial office to request blocking access to or removal of content from certain websites which violate the laws, without the necessity of a court order. The request will be made to TIB (Telecommunications Directorate) and decision to block access will have to be applied in the four hours following request. The 24 hours following the decision will be open for a judge approval, if the decision to cancel is not applied within 48 hours, it will be automatically lifted. If simply blocking a page or certain content does not stop the circulation of the harmful content, then the whole website/root-supplier will be blocked. Those who have created the harmful content will be subject to investigation and all personal information will be supplied by ISPs including the address of the person. Those ISPs or supporters of the harmful content creators, who do not cooperate with the state officials will be subjected to fines covering 3.000 days to 10.000 days. The ISPs that do not fully comply with the TIB requests and court decisions will receive heavy penalties in fines. This law is necessary to have and be applied even without a court order in case there is a matter of national security and public order, or for prevention of other crimes.”
Currently there is “estimated” over 100.000 websites that are blocked in Turkey. Citizens are heavily surveilled-on and mass surveillance systems also are being used in profiling citizens based on their ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation, political views, consumption habits etc. Internet platform remains as the only partly-free atmospheres in Turkey for opposition groups and in the past few years critical citizens and groups have made serious gains mostly thanks to engagement over social media. Before the coming national elections, governing AKP is polled roughly around 40% and if the results come as expected they will not be able to form a single-party government as the past 13 years. These next few weeks might be the last chance to pass heavily restrictive laws that will have more intervention to citizens private lives. Moreover, the new bill might also be attempting to prevent a next round of “Charlie Hebdo Crisis”, preventing Turkish newspapers to republish the caricatures online.