Turkey’s parliament approved a new Internet restrictions bill that would allow authorities to shut websites and severely limit free speech in the democracy. The legislation is raising concerns that the government is trying to silence dissent and control information amid a government corruption scandal. People have taken to the streets to protest the bill, which would affect Turkey’s estimated 40 million Internet users.
The Turkish measure, which still must be signed by President Abdullah Gul, allows authorities to shut down websites or remove content without a court ruling. Internet providers will be required to keep data traffic information for up to two years and give them to authorities when requested. The bill also requires service provides to remove objectionable content within four hours or face stiff fines.
Critics see the measure as an attempt by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to expand his media control and silence dissent. The Internet in Turkey had gone viral in recent days with leaked recordings of wiretapped conversations that allegedly involved Erdogan and other information pertaining to the corruption and bribery scandal that arose two months ago.
The investigation into alleged corruption and bribery began in December and has ensnared some of Erdogan’s political and business allies. Erdogan was forced to dismiss four government officials involved in the accusations. The Prime Minister’s government has also replaced hundreds of police and prosecutors, including many involved in the investigation. More than 20 suspects have been jailed. Reports are that those moves were to thwart a second probe into activities of his son and others. Erdogan reportedly called the probes a foreign-backed plot to topple or discredit his government before local elections next month and an attempt to derail Turkey’s economic progress.
The Internet restrictions that were approved in Turkey have raised international concerns about free speech and a more authoritarian regime. They come of the heels of already tight Internet rules that have blocked an estimated 40,000 websites, including the one that leaked the corruption scandal recordings. The leaks have since appeared on YouTube and other social media sites. The postings disappear quickly and show up elsewhere on the web, moving around so the government does not have time to react and censor, a strategy that The New York Times equated to a game of Whac-a-Mole.
Turkey is considered to be a key NATO ally for Europe and the U.S. Additionally, the country has hoped to become a member of the European Union. European Parliament President Martin Schulz used to Twitter to comment on the legislation, calling it a backward step in an environment already suffocating from a lack of media freedom.
According to the a NY-based advocacy group called Committee to Protect Journalists, the countries that control Internet content for most are North Korea, Burma, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam and Turkmenistan. The censorship employed varies from filtering content and emails to blocking sites that criticize the government to only allowing access to the internet at government controlled locations. If Gul signs the Internet restrictions approved in parliament, Turkey could join the list of countries that heavily limit free speech.
By Dyanne Weiss