In one leaked phone conversation, PM Erdoğan reproaches a media executive, stating he doesn’t have the time to monitor every publication across media networks. He essentially all but states his desire for media bosses to use ‘common sense’ and auto-censor their publications. If this demand happens to fall on deaf ears, he clearly does not shy away from picking up the phone and lighting a fire under executives to make them toe the line.
Considering the amount of dirt that has been swept under the carpet over the AKP’s 10 year tenure – which is steadily surfacing – the variety of strong-arm tactics employed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are increasing in proportion to the growing opposition.
On February 15, the Parliament approved a bill that will tighten the government’s grip over the judiciary. Since PM Erdoğan’s AKP dominate in parliament with 319 seats out of 550, ‘debates’ are usually vocal and violent, but lack any real dialogue. In this instance, the bill was passed amidst a fight where one opposition MP – from the CHP – ended up in hospital with a broken nose. This bill will stop the judiciary from carrying out investigations against alleged acts of corruption that involve the governing AKP. On February 20, another law was drafted that will expand the powers of the intelligence agency (MIT). Experts say the proposed legislation would transform Turkey into a full fledged secret-police state. Without any doubt, the proposed bill will soon be on President Gül’s table for a rubber stamping.
The topic of this post however is the new internet law that will plug another hole in the AKP’s sinking ship. Whilst the law regulating the HSYK will stop legal inquiries against the AKP and the MIT bill will further enable AKP to gather intelligence on dissidents, the internet crackdown will muzzle the free flow of information, essentially preventing the social media and other sites from reporting on the corruption scandal and any other skeletons the AKP might still have locked up in its closet.
What does the new Law change?
The amendments to Law 5651 allows Turkey’s telecommunications authority (T.I.B) to block websites and censor any internet content within 4 hours without a prior court decision. The legislation also forces Internet service providers to store data on web users’ activities for two years and makes them available to the authorities upon request, without the notification of users.
In a nutshell, the law gives absolute power to the T.I.B which is in turn under the control of the government. Whilst any bureaucrat can decide to censor online content without applying for a court order, the user would have to apply to the courts to overturn the censorship decision.
It is worrying that the law puts control over the internet further in the hands of the government and away from judicial oversight. Many have opposed the law because they see it as a way for the AKP to censor dissident opinions and contain the publication of information that might cause harm to itself or its associates. The fact that the current changes facilitate a more targeted censorship, such as of individual Twitter profiles, or specific youtube clips seems to verify this opinion. From here on in, the decision to block access to any given material will target specific IPs and URLs. In other words, it will be possible to block access to a specific part of a website and changing DNS settings will not allow access to blocked internet sites.
With the new internet law, the amount of blocked internet content will increase at an alarming rate. For example, the ‘Alo-Fatih’ phone leaks are a collection of legally acquired recordings that are published online by a user with the alias Haramzadeler. Access to these tapes were blocked once its circulation reached 50,000 hits.
Internet censorship in Turkey:
Censorship and restriction of the internet is already a fact of life in Turkey. According to Engelliweb.com, around 40,800 websites are blocked in Turkey up to date. The statistics also highlight the alarmingly high rate of increase in blocked internet sites.
Youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Blogspot, Soundcloud, Tiny URL, World News Network, Google Sites are only number of household names and examples of sites that have been or still are blocked from access in Turkey.