The Turkish government under the Democratic Party (APK) is drafting a new bill which will allow the government to block websites under various stipulated conditions. The bill if passed into law will represent a new phase in the global practice where governments are growing increasingly paranoid of the power of the internet and thereby passing legislation which is aimed at crippling freedom of expression.
The lawmakers took their time before inserting the clauses that allow blocking off of websites in the bill. They waited until the bill was about to be presented to parliament in January 23 to insert the amendments. The amendments specifically state that the Prime Minister and his cabinet members will have the power to shut down websites if they feel that websites are violating the stipulated issues. The shutting down will not be guided by a court process, rather, the Prime Minister and his cabinet’s decision.
There are several reason that the ruling party has given that could lead to the closure of a website in Turkey. One of the tings is national security. As seen in the US, UK and other countries, national security has become the go-to reason for justifying blatant violation of freedom rights and privacy online. The national security reason is too amorphous and it can only take but a slight connection to justify a website as being a danger to national security.
The second reason why the APK wants to be able to shut down websites is protecting property. The third reason given in the bill is protecting life. Now while these might sound like good intentions, the interpretation of the law can be quiet different, and that is precisely what internet freedom experts are worried about.
In the real sense, the Turkish government is looking to silence people who it thinks threatens its supremacy. When the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was Prime Minister, he orchestrated bans on several websites.
Some of the websites that have been banned before in Turkey include Twitter and YouTube. The two were banned after they started becoming avenues through which the people could expose corrupt government officials and mobilize demonstrations. The ruling party in Turkey is therefore not a stranger to internet censorship. The ruling party has been known to direct the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) to block websites before.
In this bill, the TIB will not seek to shut down sites as a first move; the TIB will first of all try and block the offensive pages. If this fails to work, the institution will then move to shut down the whole website.
In September of 2014, the ruling party passed an almost similar bill which was later overturned the constitutional court. It is the same constitutional which overturned a ban on Twitter and YouTube.
The current bill has received serious backlash from various quarters. Many NGOs, civil rights activists, businessmen and the opposition politicians are opposed to the bill. In addition, the European Union criticizes the bill because it is an affront on democratic rights.
Top/Featured Image: By by Loripanir – Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons