AKP bill seeks to impose prison sentences for ‘organized disinformation’ on social media

A new bill expected to be proposed in October by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government calls for prison sentences for social media users who “spread organized lies and disinformation online,” Turkish Minute reported on Wednesday, citing the BBC’s Turkish service.

According to party officials, the AKP plans to establish an “official and institutional” mechanism that would inspect the social media outlets used by Turks and identify users who produce or disseminate fake news online.

The ruling party is currently focused on imposing prison sentences of up to five years on users determined to have produced or spread organized disinformation on social media, the report said.

The proposed law is based on paragraph 2 of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns freedom of expression, and is modeled after social media legislation of European Union countries, especially Germany, the officials told BBC Turkish.

“The exercise of these freedoms … may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime,” paragraph 2 says.

“It’s not the individual posts that we’re going to fight against. They can also spread disinformation, but what we’re focusing on is organized and deliberate disinformation [campaigns]. For example, someone sends a [critical] post regarding the dignity of the Republic of Turkey in the international arena, then a [news] website covers it, then somebody hold a press conference about it. So you are faced with an organized structure whose parts work in coordination with each another. The purpose of this bill is to prevent such posts,” the officials indicated.

They said Turkey may also implement practices similar to those of the German government, which can fine social media companies up to €50 million ($59 million) if they fail to remove posts containing hate speech within 24 hours, and up to 10 percent of their annual global turnover if they don’t delete posts including violent elements.

The AKP government has been relentless in its crackdown on critical media outlets particularly after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

As an overwhelming majority of the country’s mainstream media has come under government control over the last decade, Turks have taken to social media and smaller online news outlets for critical voices and independent news.

Turks are already heavily policed on social media, and many have been charged with insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or his ministers, or criticism related to foreign military incursions and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In July 2020 parliament passed legislation at Erdoğan’s request imposing far-reaching restrictions on social media platforms with over 1 million daily visitors in Turkey.

The law, which stipulated progressive sanctions forcing the platforms to appoint a representative in Turkey with whom the Turkish authorities can resolve problems arising from cases of insult, intimidation and violation of privacy, was widely criticized by human rights defenders and critics including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the UN.

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