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Erdogan: With a new law he “silences” free expression – Kilicdaroglu first target


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In October, the Turkish parliament adopted a new law punishing the transmission of “fake news” with up to three years in prison, without defining what constitutes “fake news”.

“Another weapon against us”: a few months before the crucial elections in Turkey, the government strengthened its already well-equipped “repressive arsenal” against the press and the opposition, according to journalists and activists.

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“The disinformation law is another weapon against us in the government’s arsenal,” notes Gyokhan Bichici, the editor-in-chief of the Istanbul-based independent news site dokuzu8NEWS.

“They already had closets full of rifles and dozens of tools and weapons at their disposal” to silence the media, he told AFP from his office on the Asian side of the city.

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Bichiji mainly invoked “insulting the president”, a charge that has allowed the prosecution of tens of thousands of critical voices in Turkey in recent years – students, athletes and even a former Miss Turkey.

In October, the Turkish parliament adopted a new law punishing the transmission of “fake news” with up to three years in prison, without defining what constitutes “fake news”.

The Islamist-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist allies in the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), which hold a majority in parliament, passed amendments deemed “dangerous” and even “dystopian” by civil rights advocates.


For digital law expert Yaman Akdeniz, this law gives “broad discretion to the authorities”, which carries the risk of clear arbitrariness in a pre-election period. “It is therefore not surprising that the first person to be prosecuted under this is the leader of the largest opposition party,” he notes.

A possible candidate in the June 2023 presidential election against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is being prosecuted for accusing the government on Twitter of being responsible for Turkey’s “meth epidemic.”

Erdogan vehemently defended the law, denouncing the “unbounded and unethical and moral” social media “fueling polarization and the fire of hatred.”

However, he too had relied on Twitter to mobilize his supporters during the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

With the Misinformation Act, “The government can exercise significant control over social media,” notes Emma Sinclair-Webb, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The law puts them in a very difficult position: either they comply and remove content, or they disclose their users’ data under the threat of huge fines,” he underlines.

The law, which came into effect at a time when the president’s side has lost more ground than ever due to the economic crisis and inflation exceeding 80 percent, allows authorities to suspend the Internet or restrict access to social media networking, as happened after the November 13 attack in Istanbul (6 dead, 81 injured).

More pressure

Kurdish journalists and media are also being targeted: Fatma Demireli, director of the non-governmental organization defending freedom of expression P24, reported “new arrests targeting a large number of journalists since the summer”.

“We fear that this new law (…) will further worsen the situation,” he noted, speaking to AFP.

In late October, 9 journalists were arrested in Istanbul and other cities in the country, including the Kurdish-majority Diyarbakır in southeast Turkey, on charges of having links to “terrorist” organizations such as Labor Kurdistan Party (PKK), to which the Turkish authorities attributed the Istanbul attack.

With them, the number of journalists in prison in Turkey rose to 76, according to a count by the press freedom monitoring platform Expression Interrupted.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 149th — out of 180 countries — on its press freedom index.
Fatos Erdogan, journalist of dokuz8NEWS, states that reporting is becoming more and more difficult.

“We were already victims of violence, but I have a feeling that there will be more pressure,” he says. “I’m worried about our safety.”

“Persecutions and threats are part of our daily life,” adds Gyokhan Bichiji, editor-in-chief.

“Now being careful and avoiding being a target as much as possible is the biggest concern of journalists in Turkey, even the most liberal among them,” he concludes.


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