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New Law in Turkey Would Send People to Prison for Disseminating “misinformation”

A new law proposal has been drafted by the Justice and Development Party and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party; if passed, the new law will hand over more control of the internet to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann

The Turkish President Erdogan has repeatedly called for the shut down of some social media sites; due to what he considers to be personal attacks against himself and his family. In the past he has publicly denounced the platforms, referring to them as “a threat to democracy” as well as “a national security problem.”

In recent years, Turkey’s government has imposed more restrictions on online content and platforms, while restricting official advertising campaigns and public announcements in media companies that have ties to the opposition.

According to the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranks 149th out of all 180 nations, which states that 90% of the country’s media is state run. The organization has also accused Erdogan’s administration of harassing journalists in order to divert public attention from economic and other problems before next year’s elections.

The draft law proposal has received wide condemnation from journalists. In a statement, the Turkish Committee of the International Press Institute, the Journalists’ Association, and the Journalists’ Union of Turkey commented on the situation and have stated that they are: “concerned that it may lead to one of the most severe censorship and self-censorship mechanisms in the history of the republic, we call for the immediate withdrawal of this bill, which seems to have been designed to increase the pressure on journalism, not ‘fight against disinformation.”

According to various sources, the law is likely to pass and will criminalize “spreading misinformation on purpose.” It will also be illegal to publicly disseminating “false information regarding internal and external security, public order and the general health of the country, in a way that is suitable for disturbing the public peace, simply for the purpose of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the people.”

Violators of the proposed law can expect to be sent to prison from one to three years - and the sentence is doubled if a court finds that person to spread disinformation while being part of an illegal organization. Consequently, it is entirely possible for journalists to be detained and arrested under the new law: for withholding sources that provided them “false information.”

According to the proposal, web-only media companies will be permitted to register as periodical media publications. And even though this provision will give web-only media companies a number of privileges that are enjoyed by traditional media companies such as press cards, they will still be obliged to follow some rules and regulations.

For example, if the Turkish government believes that false content has been published, then web-only media companies would have to remove such content and archive it; which makes it very easy for the government to block their web pages.

“On the request of the ministries, the President may decide to remove the content and/or block access to be fulfilled within four hours regarding broadcasts on the internet,” the new law states, referring to the President of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority.

Deputy Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Omer Fatih Sayan, commented about the bill on Twitter: “Those who get funded by various places and want to create chaos in our country will have to think again.” He then went on to say that: “We have never allowed and will never allow disinformation and manipulation on social media platforms.”

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