Turkey: Islamists Push Law to Force Social Media Companies to Hand Over Intelligence

Turkish President and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during AK Party's extended meeting of Provincial heads at AK Party Headquarters in Ankara on September 5, 2019. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party is promoting a legislative bill this week seeking to crack down on citizen’s right to post freely on social media, forcing companies to censor or face fines and restrictions.

Voice of America (VOA) reported on Tuesday that Erdogan’s allies in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey are currently drawing up legislation, which if passed, will force social media giants including Twitter, Facebook, and Google to appoint a legal representative in Turkey to respond to court requests demanding the removal of content or unveiling the identity of users.

Companies that fail to comply with the new legislation within a month of coming into effect will face gradually increasing fines and bandwidth reductions of up to 90 percent, according to one Turkish legislator.

Erdogan first announced the proposal on July 1, following social media users posting insulting comments after his daughter and son-in-law gave birth to their first child. Police immediately launched an investigation, managing to track down and arrest 11 individuals behind the 19 accounts involved.

“Insulting the president” is a crime in Turkey.

“These platforms do not suit this nation,” Erdogan declared during a recent meeting with members of his Justice and Development (AKP) party. “We want to shut down, control [them] by bringing [a bill] to parliament as soon as possible.”

Erdogan demanded the legislation be fast-tracked through parliament. On Tuesday, lawmakers submitted a nine-draft bill that the general assembly will debate next week.

Freedom of the press has become a severe problem in Turkey over recent years. Following the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, the president has used his powers to arrest, intimidate, harass, censor, or persecute those seen as a threat to his authority. As of 2019, the Erdogan regime had imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world.

“Freedom of expression in Turkey is under sustained and increasing attack,” noted Amnesty International.” Since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, academics, journalists, and writers who criticize the government risk criminal investigation and prosecution, intimidation, harassment, and censorship.”

“Coupled with the closure of at least 180 media outlets by executive decree under the state of emergency, the message – and the resulting effect on press freedom – is clear and disturbing,” added the organization. “The severity of the Turkish government’s repression of the media is such that it has been described by some as the ‘death of journalism.'”

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