The right to use the internet in Turkey is under imminent and major danger. With a new law just adopted, the Turkish Government has tightened its suffocating grip on the Internet, further curtailing the freedom of expression, the freedom of communication and the right of our citizens to receive and disseminate information. The right to privacy is also severely threatened. A few bureaucrats appointed by the Government will have the authority to decide what the public can or cannot do over the Internet. With this unprecedented step of censorship, “Turkey 2014” is literally being turned into George Orwell’s “1984” – in its Internet-age version!
With service present in every other Turkish household, more than 40 million people are using the Internet, making it the primary means and source of expression, information and communication in the country.
Before the new law, the Directorate of Telecommunications (TIB) could deny access to the internet only in cases of “indecency” and the “sexual exploitation of children”. Now however TIB’s authority has been vastly expanded enabling it to block websites or remove content upon receipt of complaints about privacy violations from natural and legal persons. The citizen’s browser history is monitored; Internet providers are forced to become a member of a government-controlled union and asked to keep data on peoples’ online activities for up to two years and make them available to authorities when requested. What is critical here is that the TIB’s decisions while open to appeal ex-post-facto in the court of law, are not subject to prior judicial review. The courts are sidelined as TIB is given a free hand to censor internet content at will.
The singular attack by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against Internet freedoms is part of an overall and persistent onslaught against fundamental freedoms and rights of Turkish citizens. Democracy is in regression and the rule of law has been shelved in Turkey for some years now. The aim of this latest move is twofold: one is to silence all criticism and dissent by extending and deepening control over the media; the other is to cover up the corruption and bribery charges against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his family and his Ministers. The right to privacy cannot be a pretext for censorship. In short, Mr. Erdoğan wants to turn the Internet into his Master’s Voice. What is at stake therefore is not just the rights of Turkish citizens, but the rights of all internet-using citizens throughout the world.
From abroad, there has been immediate and forceful reaction to this radical and ominous step by the AKP government. The EU called for the law to be revised in line with European standards. The provisions of the new law “… have no place in a democratic society. They go far beyond the restrictions on speech allowed by Turkey’s existing Internet law and they are inconsistent with international norms,” said Geoffrey King of CPJ. “The last thing Turkey needs right now is more censorship,” stated Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch. Dunja Mijatović, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe concluded that the changes have “the potential to significantly impact free expression, investigative journalism, the protection of journalists’ sources, political discourse, and access to information over the Internet.” U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki expressed similar concerns. “This law gives the government license to censor on the internet whatever it doesn’t like and whatever it doesn’t want the public to know,” said Daniel Calingaert of Freedom House. “It is a government attempt to limit political activity, especially debate unfavorable to the government.”
Under these circumstances, we call on you to make your voice heard and stand in solidarity with the citizens of Turkey in their struggle to protect their freedoms and rights against the authoritarian, anti-democratic practices of the AKP Government. Let us oppose the control and censorship of the Internet. Let us defend the rights of all citizens everywhere freely to use the Internet.
Faruk Loğoğlu, Vice Chairperson of CHP in charge of Foreign Relations and Former Turkish Ambassador to the United States.