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The Turkish government introduced a new law in parliament that will give the government more control over the internet. The law was drafted by President’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The law, which is expected to pass, will punish “spreading misinformation on purpose.” It prohibits publicly spreading “false information regarding internal and external security, public order and the general health of the country, in a way that is suitable for disturbing the public peace, simply for the purpose of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the people.”
The punishment for intentionally spreading “false information” will be one to three years in prison. If the court finds that a person spread false information as part of an organization that is illegal, the sentence will be doubled.
Journalists might also be arrested under the new law for hiding sources who gave them “false information.”
Under the new law, web-only media outlets will be allowed to register as periodical media publications. While that makes them enjoy some of the privileges of traditional media, like press cards, they will be required to follow some rules. For instance, they will be required to remove content the government deems false and must archive their publications, which allows the government to more easily block access to their websites.
“On the request of the ministries, the President may decide to remove the content and/or block access to be fulfilled within four hours regarding broadcasts on the internet,” the new law states, referring to the President of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority.
The law also updated the regulations on official press cards. The old regulations, which were created by the Communications Directorate, which answers to the president, gave the government the authority to cancel press cards of journalists who criticized the government.
The new law will create a Press Card Commission, which will have nine members, five from the Communications Directorate and the others will be representatives from journalists’ unions and academics.
The draft bill was severely condemned by journalists. In a joint statement, the Turkish Committee of the International Press Institute, the Journalists’ Association, and the Journalists’ Union of Turkey said that they were “concerned that it may lead to one of the most severe censorship and self-censorship mechanisms in the history of the republic, we call for the immediate withdrawal of this bill, which seems to have been designed to increase the pressure on journalism, not ‘fight against disinformation.”