Turkey accused of censoring independent journalism and free speech with law restricting social media

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FREEDOM of speech came under further attack in Turkey today when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) outlined legislation placing serious restrictions on social media.

Ozlem Zengin, deputy chair of the AKP parliamentary group, denied that the Bill, which has nine articles, was designed to shut down social-media providers in the country.

“We aim to end insults and swearing on social media and harassment through this form of media,” she told reporters.

“We’re aware of its place in our lives and we’re also aware of the extent of its use.

“But, in this sense, there is a series of tiered sanctions [in the legislation] trying to set a balance between freedoms and rights and justice.”

Among the new restrictions is a requirement for Twitter, Facebook and Google to appoint a legal representative in Turkey to process court requests to have content removed or the identity of users to be revealed.

Companies that fail to appoint a representative within 30 days of the Bill becoming law would face a series of fines and a reduction of bandwidth of up to 90 per cent.

Social-network providers would have 48 hours to respond to orders to remove “offensive content” and would be required to store data on users in Turkey inside the country.

The legislation represents a serious threat to free speech, particularly since many journalists rely on social media and web-based news platforms following the closure of hundreds of news organisations by the Turkish state.

International Press Institute spokesman Emre Kilikaya said: “I check the pulse of the public [on social media].  Social media is a part of history. Controlling it would mean to rewrite the history … the digital domain is the last refuge of independent journalism in Turkey.”

Authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to “take control” of social media after posts were deemed to have insulted his daughter Esra and son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is the finance minister, after the birth of their child at the end of June.

Earlier this month a report by the Freedom of Expression Association in Turkey revealed the extent of internet censorship already in place.

According to the report 130,000 URLs, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 Facebook accounts were banned last year.

Its author, Professor Yaman Akdeniz of Istanbul’s Bigli University, said: “One morning, you wake up and access to Wikipedia is blocked. The next morning, the same happens to [independent channel] OdaTV.”

“In addition to censorship, investigations are launched into hundreds of people and indictments are prepared.

“The number of those detained or arrested over their social-media posts is increasing day by day. The pressure on freedom of expression, the internet and free press will continue to increase,” he said.

Source: Morning Star Online

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