Erdoğan signs controversial media law critics say will stifle free speech

A controversial media law that attracted widespread criticism from rights groups and the opposition on accusations it will further cripple free speech in Turkey has been signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.

The new law went into effect after it was published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday.

The Turkish Parliament adopted the law last Thursday after it was proposed by Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and backed by its election ally, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

They say the measure aims to regulate online publications, protect the country and combat disinformation.

The new legislation consists of 40 articles amending several laws, including the Internet Law, the Press Law, and the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). It makes “disseminating false information” a criminal offense, with prison sentences of between one and three years. If a person conceals their identity while spreading misinformation, those sentences can be increased by half, the law says. The law doesn’t specifically define false information.

It is criticized by Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups who say its vague reference to “false or misleading information” can be interpreted differently by courts to punish those critical of the government.

The new law also establishes much tighter government control over online news websites and equips the government-controlled Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), charged with regulating the internet, with far-reaching powers to compel social media companies to comply with requests to take down online content and hand over user data or to be subject to a reduction of their bandwidth – known as “internet throttling” – if they fail to comply.

The timing of the legislation has raised concerns that it is intended to muzzle online reporting and commentary critical of Erdoğan’s government in the run-up to elections in 2023.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has vowed to go to the Constitutional Court for annulment of the controversial law.

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 President Erdoğan or his ministers, or criticism related to foreign military incursions and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey was classified as “not free” by Freedom House in its “Freedom in the World 2022” index.

More than 90 percent of Turkey’s media networks “depend on public tenders and are owned by large businesses with close personal ties to President Erdoğan,” according to a Freedom House report released in February.

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