Turkey’s main opposition to appeal if gov’t passes social media censorship bill

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) is planning to appeal to the Constitutional Court (AYM) if the government passes a draft bill that will introduce severe restrictions on social media and internet freedoms in the country, CHP Deputy Chairman Onursal Adıgüzel told reporters on Thursday.

More than 50 million Turkish citizens use social media platforms and will be directly affected by the bill, Adıgüzel said, adding that opposition parties were not notified or consulted as the draft was being prepared.

The proposal was discussed in the parliamentary justice commission on Thursday, and is expected to be brought to the general assembly next week.

“There is an ongoing attempt in Turkey to make social media companies kneel,” Adıgüzel said.

The main opposition party has appealed to the AYM regarding another piece of legislation that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) passed recently despite significant opposition - a bill to transform how Turkey’s bar associations organise and operate, seen by critics as an attempt to neuter the ability of lawyers to criticise the government over human rights violations.

The AYM rejected the CHP’s appeal on that legislation following a preliminary assessment of the bill, and ruled to hold another hearing on a date to be determined later, BirGün newspaper reported.

If the social media draft bill passes, social media companies providing services to more than 1 million users in Turkey will have to set up offices in the country, making them unable to reject user information requests by Turkish courts. Noncompliance will lead to hefty fines, followed by an advertising ban and an eventual bandwidth throttling of up to 90 percent, effectively making them inaccessible through Turkey-based internet service providers (ISPs).

Throttling was used after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib in February, Adıgüzel said.

Forcing companies like Twitter and Facebook to have offices in Turkey, “at a time when the judiciary is not independent,” will “kick-start a censorship process,” he continued, and will lead to police raids on data storage centres.

Twitter complied with five percent of removal requests from Turkey in the first half of 2019, and none of the personal information requests on 596 accounts, according to the company’s transparency report.

The proposed law includes a sanction to remove content, which will enable a “massive removal of government critical news and content,” cyber rights expert Yaman Akdeniz said in a series of Tweets. “Believe me, this is not what is meant by ‘right to be forgotten’.”

The draft bill will affect people who use platforms for trade as well.

There are 1.7 million small businesses in Turkey that advertise on “just one social media platform,” Adıgüzel said without naming the platform, generating 15.3 billion liras ($ 2.25 billion) in revenue and providing 209,000 jobs.

The government “does not care that thousands of people will lose their livelihood, they only care to silence dissidents,” he said, and is telling social media companies to “either help with profiling users, or get out of Turkey.”

Some 90 to 95 percent of media in Turkey is under government control, and an increasing number of Turks turn to social media for information from alternative sources, as well as to voice their grievances and bring various matters to public attention, such as violence against women.

Despite increasing control, Turkish activists continue to speak out, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International Milena Büyüm told Ahval.