International media outlets join rights advocacy groups in expressing concerns that Turkey’s new disinformation law, touted by the government as the first of its kind in the world, will further stifle free expression in the country and worsen conditions for journalists.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party and its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on Thursday voted on some of the most critical articles in the new law, which the opposition has dubbed the “Censorship Act”, including the introduction of prison time.
“The new law means those found guilty of intentionally publishing disinformation or ‘fake news’ that the authorities claim spreads panic, endangers security forces or the overall health of Turkish society could be sentenced up to three years in prison,” a report by the Guardian stated.
“Campaigners fear these additional restrictions will affect the media’s ability to accurately cover Turkey’s forthcoming election, expected in or before June,” the British daily newspaper said.
US-based ABC News called the law “contentious”, and cited Turkish opposition lawmaker Engin Altay as saying, “Those who say, ‘There is poverty,’ will go to jail. Those who say, ‘There is corruption,’ will go to jail.”
“The wording of the article is so vague that opposition parties say it could be abused by the government and lead to self-censorship in newsrooms,” the network said. “With the government controlling most news outlets, many in Turkey have turned to social media platforms such as YouTube and Twitter for independent news.”
Germany’s state-owned Deutsche Welle cited the Council of Europe warning against the potential “chilling effect and increased self-censorship, not least in view of the upcoming elections in June 2023” brought on by the threat of jail time.
News agency Reuters cited critics of the law, who said it was “open to abuse by courts (that) have cracked down aggressively on open dissent in recent years in the country of some 85 million”.
London-based Middle East Eye said the law would cement “the government’s firm grip on the media and independent speech eight months before elections that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan enters trailing in the polls”. The website also pointed to another provision in the Turkish criminal code, insulting the president, which carries a maximum of four years in prison. Thousands have been charged with insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it said.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also expressed concerns, with Amnesty calling the passing of the law “a dark day for online free expression” and the HRW saying the amendment was “dangerous, dystopian”.
“The timing of the legislation … raises concerns that the government intends to muzzle online reporting and commentary critical of the Erdoğan government in the run-up to the elections”, HRW said.