Internet freedom continued to decline in Turkey: Freedom House

A yearly report by Freedom House on global internet freedom reveals that internet freedom continued to decline for the fourth year in a row in Turkey and that thousands of online users, including members of the political opposition, faced criminal charges for their social media activities during the period covered, Turkish Minute reported.

According to the report, self-censorship, the proliferation of pro-government outlets and the blocking of independent media websites have created a less diverse online space in Turkey. 

Between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022, the period covered in the report, pro-government “troll networks” orchestrated smear campaigns against outspoken activists, and prominent journalists faced physical violence for their online reporting, according to Freedom House.

“During the coverage period, lawmakers proposed a ‘disinformation’ bill that would impose criminal penalties on anyone who deliberately shares fake news online and could further strengthen the government’s control over the online space,” Freedom House said.

The “Freedom on the Net 2022” report indicates that the so-called disinformation bill will assist the governing alliance in silencing opposition parties and critical media coverage ahead of the June 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, with all potential opposition candidates polling higher than President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“President Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled Turkey since 2002, and after initially passing some liberalizing reforms, they have shown growing contempt for political rights and civil liberties. The AKP government has pursued a dramatic and wide-ranging crackdown on perceived opponents since an attempted coup in 2016, and constitutional changes adopted in 2017 concentrated power in the hands of the president.,” the report said.

“At least one social media user faces a life sentence for a social media post, while a journalist who covers Kurdish issues was sentenced to life in prison, in part due to a Facebook post. Additionally, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Istanbul chair of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was sentenced to 4 years and 11 months in prison for content posted to her Twitter account,” Freedom House said.

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

The law, which concerns YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, went into effect at the beginning of October and set forth progressive sanctions forcing social media platforms with more than 1 million connections a day to appoint a representative in Turkey with whom the Turkish authorities can resolve problems arising from cases of insult, intimidation and violation of privacy.

Platforms are also required to remove content deemed “offensive” within 48 hours of being notified or risk escalating penalties including fines, advertising bans and limitations of bandwidth.

According to Freedom House, during the period covered, the 2020 law came into effect and exerted a major impact on independent news outlets. 

“News outlets and social media platforms continued to be targeted with content removal orders,” the report said.

According to the “Freedom on the Net 2022” report, global internet freedom declined for the 12th consecutive year. Users in at least 53 countries faced legal repercussions for expressing themselves online, often leading to draconian prison terms, the report said.

“Freedom on the Net” is an annual study of human rights in the digital sphere. The project assesses internet freedom in 70 countries, accounting for 89 percent of the world’s internet users. More than 80 analysts and advisers contributed to this year’s edition, using a standard methodology to determine each country’s internet freedom score on a 100-point scale, with 21 separate indicators pertaining to obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. The Freedom on the Net website features in-depth reports and data on each country’s conditions, as well as policy recommendations for governments and tech companies.

Turkey is rated as “Not Free,” scoring 32 out of 100 points, down from 34 the previous year.

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