Turkey Adopts Legislation That Could Jail Journalists For ‘Disinformation’
Authored by Mimi Nguyen Ly via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Turkish lawmakers have voted to adopt a law that aimed at preventing “disinformation” in the media and online, despite widespread concerns about the measure’s potential to quash free speech.
Peoples’ Democratic Party’s Zuleyha Gulum holds a banner “Truths cannot be obscured” as she stands with a covered mouth, in protest over a new media law that could lead to up to three years of jail for spreading “fake news” by reporters and social networks users, at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, Turkey, on Oct. 13, 2022. (Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)
Lawmakers from President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which together have a majority, voted in parliament on Thursday to approve the legislation. The bill now goes to Erdogan for final approval.
While government officials have said the highly controversial bill is needed to combat fake news and disinformation, opposition members of parliament as well as European countries and media rights activists have called to scrap it.
Many have taken issue with article 29 in the measure, saying that it may be used to enforce censorship and quash free speech, as well as threaten independent journalism, since the Turkish government currently controls a majority of major news outlets in the country.
Article 29 says that people who are found guilty of spreading false information online intended to “create fear and disturb public order” could be punished with a prison sentence of one to three years. The measure also stipulates that if anonymous accounts are used to spread the alleged disinformation, sentences can be increased by up to half.
Critics also said there is no clear definition of “false or misleading information” and courts could abuse the law.
The new legislation comes amid dwindling support for Erdogan and his AKP, ahead of the country’s general elections in June 2023.
A coalition of 22 press freedom organizations said the bill has a “vaguely-formulated definition of disinformation and ‘intent,’” adding that it “will put millions of internet users at risk of criminal sanction and could lead to blanket censorship and self-censorship in the run up to the 2023 elections.”
The Venice Commission, which advises the human rights group Council of Europe, has said it is particularly concerned about the consequences of the bill’s prison provision, “namely the chilling effect and increased self-censorship” ahead of the elections.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Oct. 12 urged the Turkish government not to enact the new “disinformation” law.
The Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS), which comprises seven leading journalist organizations in the country, condemned how the Turkish government had “consulted the opinion of the U.S.-based digital media companies” in preparing the bill, but “failed to seek the views of the journalism organizations in Turkey who will be directly affected.”
“It is a basic requirement of democracy for politicians to establish a dialogue with the leading professional organizations and civil society while preparing such legal regulations that directly concern the right of the society to obtain and receive information,” the group said. “We condemn the violation of this democratic principle.”
Güney Yildiz, a regional researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the measure would enable the government to “further censor and silence critical voices ahead of Turkey’s upcoming elections and beyond, under the guise of fighting disinformation.”
“[T]he law’s vaguely defined provisions facilitate further the prosecution of those who allegedly publicly disseminate ‘false information’ and could see people facing jail terms of up to three years merely for a retweet,” Yildiz said, adding that the measure opens “new avenues for the authorities to extend their draconian crackdown on freedom of expression and increase the chilling effect that fear of criminal prosecution brings.”
According to the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index for 2022, Turkey ranks 149 out of 180 countries.
Katabella Roberts and Reuters contributed to this report.
Sun, 10/16/2022 – 08:10