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Turkey Widens Internet Censorship

Parliament has approved a key article of the contentious omnibus bill which gives power to the prime minister and other ministers to shut down websites within four hours, just six months after a similar bill was overturned by the Constitutional Court.

Parliament has approved a key article of the contentious omnibus bill which gives power to the prime minister and other ministers to shut down websites within four hours, just six months after a similar bill was overturned by the Constitutional Court.

A key article stipulates that ministers will have the power to order the removal or blocking of an online publication for “defending the right to live, securing property, ensuring national security and public order, preventing crime or protecting public health.”

The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) could enforce the request of the ministry, as a blanket ban of the website if deemed necessary, within a maximum of four hours.

The TİB would then submit the decision to the judge of a criminal court of peace within 24 hours for approval. The judge would have to issue a ruling in 48 hours. If no verdict is issued, the ban would automatically be revoked.

According to the law, the TİB would also file criminal complaints by applying to prosecutors regarding the content of the website. Domain or service providers would be required to submit the necessary information to help locate the suspects of the crime through a court order.

Providers that do not submit this information could be given fines amounting to revenue earned between 3,000 and 10,000 days. Providers that do not enforce a decision to block or remove content, on the other hand, would have to pay an administrative fine from 50,000 to 500,000 liras. Authorities would also be able to revoke their provider licenses in Turkey.

Draconian powers in ever-enlarging bill

The omnibus bill, which can only pass as a law after a final vote on all of its articles, has been enlarged with more additions made by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies related to various issues, from urban transformation to procedures for the appointment of top civil servants.

In September 2014, as part of another omnibus bill, the government granted the TİB extraordinary authority to monitor Internet users and block websites and their content without a court’s permission. The bill was, however, overturned by the Constitutional Court a month later, which previously unblocked Twitter and YouTube.

Despite the ruling of Turkey’s top court, the government had made clear in January 2015 that it would keep trying to exert greater control over the Internet with a fresh omnibus bill.

The AKP’s latest drive to increase its control on the Internet has intensified on the eve of general elections scheduled for June 7. Similarly, Twitter and YouTube were banned on the eve of the March 30, 2014, local elections.

Most recently on Feb. 27, the Ankara Gölbaşı Civil Court of Peace imposed a blanket ban on the websites of Charlie Hebdo and Turkey’s first atheism association, while blocking individual pages on Ekşi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary) and İnci Sözlük (Pearl Dictionary), two hugely popular forums. It also blocked pages on news website T24, which recently published the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoon, citing blasphemy laws.

More than 67,000 websites are currently blocked in Turkey.

Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan told reporters on Dec. 24, 2014, that Article 22 of Turkey’s constitution lists a series of exceptional conditions, including threats to national security and public order, under which the right of communication can be restricted by the government.

However, Turkey’s opposition parties, several NGOs including most civil rights associations and the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), as well as the European Union, have opposed the government’s view on the grounds that it would severely violate democratic rights.

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