Turkey: new internet law a further restriction on freedom of expression

A new law governing the internet is a backwards step for freedom of expression in Turkey

The bill which amended Law No. 5651 on the internet was passed today by Turkey’s parliament, and will allow the blocking of websites without a court order and mass surveillance of Internet users.

The new law will allow sweeping surveillance and censorship of individuals’ and groups online activities,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

The situation of freedom of expression in Turkey was already extremely worrying, with dozens of journalists in prison, many of whom are held for entirely peaceful activities, often under vaguely worded anti-terror legislation.

PEN urges the Turkish authorities to take immediate steps to amend Law 5651 and all other legislation to ensure that freedom of expression is fully protected and that all writers and journalists who are detained or imprisoned solely for their peaceful expression of their opinions and beliefs are released immediately and unconditionally.

According to the new law, the head of the Telecommunications and Communications Directorate (TİB) will be able to block websites without needing to obtain a court order in advance. Individuals can also apply to TİB for a website to be blocked on grounds of privacy, also without any need for a court order.

The amendments also provide for fines for internet service providers and prison terms for internet access providers if they do not remove ‘illegal’ content, while individuals’ browsing histories must be stored for up to two years by ISPs and made available to the authorities.

Background

The amendment to Law No. 5651 on cyber-crime was introduced by ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Zeynep Karahan Uslu as part of an omnibus bill in early January.

In January 2014, the Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Dunja Mijatović, found that the measures in the bill were ‘not compatible with OSCE commitments and international standards on freedom of expression and they have the potential to significantly impact free expression, investigative journalism, the protection of journalists’ sources, political discourse and access to information over the Internet.

PEN has long-standing concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey and campaigns vigorously for the release of detained and imprisoned writers and against legislation which unlawfully restricts freedom of expression.

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