By Heini Järvinen

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Neues Gesetz über Internetsperren in der Türkei

In recent years, online censorship and the deteriorating situation regarding the freedom of speech has raised serious concerns in Turkey. The large majority of the traditional mainstream media is either directly or indirectly under the government control, and the Internet remains one of the few channels for free speech. However, the government is repeatedly taking measures to control also the Internet.

On 2 October 2014 the Turkish Constitutional Court overturned an amendment to the Internet law that would have given additional censorship powers to the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB). Among other things, the suggested amendment allowed the TIB (hence the government) to issue “preventive” website blocking orders to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) without a court decision. The blocking was to be executed for “national security, public order or crime prevention”.

Unperturbed by the decision, the government prepared a nearly identical bill and brought it before parliament on 20 January 2015. Like the previous one, the suggested amendment would oblige the ISPs to execute the blocking of contents within four hours after receiving the order from the TIB, enabling the government to block web sites quickly and without due process of law. The parliamentary commission has already passed the bill, and it’s expected to come to the general assembly in the next few weeks.

The government might be counting on the Constitutional Court not annulling the amendment this time, because some of its key members are in the process of retiring. But the tug of war between the those defending freedom of speech online and those wanting to restrict it continues. As EDRi-member Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently stated in its press release:

“Turkey has been a bastion of Internet censorship for so long that EFF could write a regular feature called ‘This Week in Turkish Internet Censorship’ and never run out of content.”

Unlike in the past, the international community is not being helpful. The Turkish government has followed the UK model of putting pressure on private companies to censor content outside the rule of law, coercing Facebook into restricting content. Blocking on the basis of ad hoc decisions by the telecoms regulator is currently in place (subject to a constitutional court ruling) in Italy and the Council of Europe’s draft Recommendation on Net Neutrality still (after a new revision) says that it is acceptable for restrictions can be imposed by regulatory authorities (or simply “in cooperation with public authorities”).

Facebook caves to Turkish government censorship (29.01.2015)
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/01/facebook-caves-turkish-government-censorship

Turkish parliamentary commission approves bill for tighter website blocking (05.02.2015)
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-parliamentary-commission-approves-bill-for-tighter-website-blocking.aspx?pageID=517&nID=77924&NewsCatID=339

Government defies constitutional court on website blocking (22.01.2015)
http://en.rsf.org/turkey-government-defies-constitutional-22-01-2015,47525.html

Turkey: Internet freedom, rights in sharp decline (02.09.2014)
http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/09/02/turkey-internet-freedom-rights-sharp-decline

Turkey proposes tighter internet law, pursues Twitter critic (22.01.2015)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/22/us-turkey-internet-idUSKBN0KV1Y720150122

EDRi-gram: Turkey: Constitutional Court overturns Internet law amendment (08.10.2014)
https://edri.org/turkey-constitutional-court-overturns-internet-law-amendment/

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