Turkish parliamentary commission approves social media censorship law

A Turkish parliamentary commission approved a draft social media law introducing jail sentences for spreading so-called fake news on the internet, local media including the Diken news website reported on Thursday.

The digital censorship law, which will now be considered by the general assembly, foresees prison sentences of between one and three years for publicly disseminated so-called false information on the internet regarding national security, public order, or general public health that creates anxiety, fear, or panic among the population or disturbs public peace.

In December, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan labelled social media as one of the main threats to democracy, saying his government would criminalise spreading fake news and disinformation online. His critics say the punishments are yet another example of a crackdown on democracy, freedom of speech and objections to his one-man rule. Turkey will use the legislation as an extra tool to prosecute journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Lawmakers from Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) political allies presented the legislation to parliament on May 27. It amends the penal code and press and internet laws.

The new law fails to define what constitutes misleading information or who defines what it is.

If the perpetrator commits the crime of spreading so-called false information by concealing her/his true identity or “within the framework of the activity of an organisation” punishments will be increased by half, Diken said.

Content that constitutes a “crime” against the activities and personnel of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) would be accepted as a reason for arrest, according to the new legislation, Diken said. Blocking access to broadcasters would also be easier, it said.

A social network provider’s Turkey representative will be obliged to provide personal information on anyone who creates or spreads content considered a crime, including 'sexual abuse of children', 'disseminating misleading information to the public', 'destroying the unity and integrity of the state', 'crimes against the constitutional order and the functioning of this order', 'crimes against state secrets' and 'espionage,' Diken said.

If the representative refuses to give the requested information to the authorities, the internet traffic bandwidth of the social network provider would be reduced by 90 percent, it said.

Turkey’s social media laws were updated in July 2021 to require social media companies to open offices inside the country and appoint representatives who were Turkish citizens. Those who refused faced millions of liras in fines, bandwidth throttling, and possible bans.

 

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