In Turkey, you can tell the truth, but you will go to jail if the government says it's a lie.

Amid popular disapproval of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey since 2014, the government passed a bill that censors – even more forcefully – media and journalists who, according to the text, “promote lies”, also covering anyone who manifests themselves on social media. For Erdogan’s critics, it is an attempt to undermine the opposition, disguised as fighting fake news. The sanction of the law was made by the president after 36 hours (local time) of last Thursday (13).

The measure reinforces the repression of the press that has taken place in recent years in the country. Since the attempted coup in 2016, 319 media outlets have been closed, about 319 journalists were arrested, and 36 of them are still behind bars, according to the Union of Turkish Journalists (TGS) According to Association for Legal and Media Studies, this number would be even higher: at least 59.

A recent Reuters poll showed how the content of major daily newspapers and TV news can be linked to an entire chain of government approval. The association Reporters Without Borders estimates, in turn, that 59% of the national media is in the hands of leaders linked to power.

The new law imposes, among other changes, that journalists who act “against the moral rules of the press” – without further details on what they would be – must lose the right to exercise their profession.

The bill was presented by the AKP, the president’s party, and its nationalist ally, the MHP, in May 2022, in Parliament. In the face of the protests, Ahmet Ozdemir, deputy of the presidential majority and member of the group that participated in the writing of the text, assured that it is not about censorship: “No freedom can exist without limits”, the parliamentarian told colleagues and the press.

Opposition

Meral Aksener, leader of the right-wing Iy (Good) party, condemned the new law during the opening of votes in Parliament last week. “The Social Media Act is a masterpiece of monstrosity”, he pointed out. “Those behind the law are the ones who most fear the reality and the truth”, declared Aksener.

Gülistan Kiliç Koçyigit, another opposition deputy, from the Halklarin Demokratik (People’s Democratic), denounced that “the president’s hands are dirty” and raised a sign reading “The free press will not be silent.”

The country’s Committee to Protect Journalists, which brings together unions and other entities, also issued a statement, saying that “disinformation it is a This is an important issue and must be tackled, but not at the expense of restricting journalists’ rights and the public’s rights to freedom of expression.”

“This law is unfortunately not a surprise,” he noted. on social media the Turkish journalist and economics professor Mehmet Altan, who was imprisoned for almost two years before being released in June 2014. “It is, however, the sign of a singular decadence that intends to establish a monopoly of official discourse”, he analyzed.

Control of social networks

There is also an article in this new law that amends the penal code and allows sentencing to sentences ranging from one to three years in prison any person who has disseminated “misleading information” on the networks, undermining “the unity of the State”, “the established order” or “spreading state secrets”.

The attempt by Turkey’s authoritarian government to control social media is old. In June 2014, Erdogan declared: “Social networks are a scourge for the people. There are so many lies on Twitter”.

In the same year, audio recordings involving ministers in corruption and bribery cases were spread through the networks and a representative, who at the time was prime minister, changed the functioning of the judicial administration and expressed himself on social networks: “We will not leave the Facebook and YouTube swallow our nation! We could close them. It is not conceivable to have such a notion of freedom.” Over the years, the current president has come to call social media “digital fascism”.

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