Turkish parliament approves controversial social media bill

The Turkish parliament on Wednesday approved an amendment to the law on Internet crimes submitted last week by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The bill which, according to critics and human rights defenders, aims to put social media platforms under the thumb of the authorities, was approved with the votes of the ruling party and its ultranationalist supporter, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The bill sets 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.

If they refuse to appoint a local representative, they will be subject to phased sanctions: an initial administrative fine of 10 million Turkish lira (1.3 million euros), then a fine of 30 million lira (3.9 million euros), then a three-month ban on advertising and new contracts as well as funds transfer, and finally, as a last resort, a 50 percent reduction in bandwidth that can go up to 90 percent in the event of continued non-compliance. Internet access providers would be required to implement this final sanction within four hours.

The bill obligates the social media platforms to respond within 48 hours to complaints about “violations of personal rights” or to judicial orders to remove content. The social network provider that fails to remove offending content within 24 hours after a court ruling will be held responsible for damages incurred by the content.

The bill has yet to be signed into law by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The bill was criticized by human rights defenders and critics including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the UN, who expressed their concerns over the government’s move.

“The law, if adopted, would further undermine the right of people in Turkey to freedom of expression, to obtain information and to participate in public and political life. As well, it would further weaken platforms that are essential for independent journalism,” a statement attributable to Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssell had said.

“The new regulation with its draconian provisions will further stifle freedom of expression under the guise of regulating social media. It will be a new scourge in the hands of the authorities to crack down on critics and dissidents expressing their thoughts through social media platforms, the last refuge left to them after the mainstream media of the country yielded almost in its entirety to the will of the ruling party,” Abdullah Bozkurt, president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, said in a written statement.

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