A US State Department spokesperson rejected the claims of an MP from Turkey’s ruling party who claimed that a new disinformation law adopted this week is similar to regulations in the United States, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Saturday.
Ahmet Özdemir, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said during parliamentary discussions that some US officials curious about the new legal changes had paid them a visit to get more information on the law, and in particular its article 29.
The article stipulates one to three year prison sentences for those “who publicly disseminate false information about the country’s domestic and foreign security, public order and general health, with the sole aim of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the public”.
“That’s what they said in the end: ‘Our disinformation law totally matches with yours’,” said Özdemir about the reactions of the US officials.
However, the US spokesperson rejected this claim and told VOA that vaguely worded laws “have a chilling effect on expression, restrict free and open debate, increase censorship and self-censorship, and endanger the privacy of internet users.”
“The free flow of information and data is vital,” the spokesperson told VOA, adding that the US urges Turkey to consult with civil society, media organisations and others to ensure the law does not have “unintended consequences.”
The United Nations also expressed its concerns around the new law and its effects on the freedom of expression.
“Under international human rights law, freedom of expression is not limited to ‘truthful’ information, but applies to ‘information and ideas of all kinds’, both online and offline. Restrictions to freedom of expression shall only be envisaged on legitimate and necessary grounds”, said Marta Hurtado, the UN Rights Office spokesperson, in a statement.
“In an already very restrictive context, they risk further limiting people’s rights to seek, receive and impart information as guaranteed by article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Türkiye is party”, she added.
The Office of Incoming High Comissioner Volker Türk also regretted that the laws were drafted and adopted without meaningful consultation with civil society and media representatives, and reminded Turkey that legal and regulatory frameworks of such wide potential scope and impact should only be adopted after broad public debate.
The new law is “yet another worrying step back for freedom of speech and the media in Türkiye”, said co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Turkey by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in a statement on Friday.
“It could have a chilling effect and trigger self-censorship, causing irreparable harm ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023,” they said. “We urge the Turkish Constitutional Court to review the law, taking into account the advice of the Venice Commission and the standards of the Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member.”
Freedom of expression watchdogs ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch said the new law introduced new abusive criminal speech offences, adding that its timing raised concerns that the government intended to muzzle online reporting and critical commentary in the run-up to the elections.
“With severe penalties against tech companies for failure to comply with user data and content take-down requests, the law will force tech companies to be complicit with an almost total censorship regime,” said Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19.
According to the new law, social media companies should appoint representatives who reside in Turkey and provide personal information on anyone who breaches the law, including anyone who disseminates misleading information and harms state unity.
The new bill introduces severe sanctions against the companies that fail to comply with requests for content-blocking or -removal or demands to hand over user data, with bandwidth reduction of up to 90 percent for noncompliance.