A protester chaining hands during freedom of the press in Istanbul, Turkey, 4 March 2016 Library

International groups call on Turkey’s parliament to reject the…

International groups call on Turkey’s parliament to reject the “disinformation” bill as a tool of digital censorship

Twenty three international media freedom, freedom of expression and journalists’ organisations today called for the immediate dismissal of the bill on “disinformation and fake news” which was submitted to the parliament on May 27 by the governing alliance of Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

 

[Açıklamanın Türkçe çevirisi aşağıdadır]

The bill threatens up to three years imprisonment for those found guilty of the deliberate publishing of “disinformation and fake news” intended to instigate fear or panic, endanger the country’s internal or external security, public order and general health of Turkey’s society.

Such a bill, where the definition of disinformation and ‘intent’ is left so vague, puts millions of Turkey’s internet users at risk of criminal action for posting information that the government disagrees with.

Placed in the hands of Turkey’s highly politicized judiciary, the law would become another tool for harassing journalists and activists and may cause blanket self-censorship across the internet.

The bill would also increase any sentence by 50% where information is published from anonymous user accounts. This severely undermines anonymity on the internet and further intimidates those wanting to publish evidence of corruption and wrongdoing but are afraid of the consequences of being publicly identified. 

The governing alliance claim the bill is in line with the European Union’s Digital Services Act and General Data Protection Regulation, however there are no such provisions under either of these laws. 

The law would also bring news sites under the Press Law (Basin Kanunu). This gives their journalists access to the official press accreditation and also to public advertising funds through the official Press Advertising Agency, Basin Ilan Kurumu (BIK). In practice however this will simply enable the government to fund pro-government news sites while banning critical media deemed to have breached the disinformation law.

In the drafting stage, the government reportedly organized a consultation with international digital platforms yet it failed to hold any meetings with media representatives, editors, journalism associations or unions, despite these groups, and their members, being the most affected by the legislation.

The draft bill is currently before the Parliament. However the role of parliament has been so heavily undermined by the Presidential system that the bill is being rushed through without proper scrutiny or debate and expected to be passed swiftly into law within days. 

Disinformation is an important issue and needs to be combatted but not at the price of restricting journalists’ rights and the public’s rights of freedom of expression. Any such initiatives should be developed in close consultation with media and other stakeholders and include sufficient safeguards for free speech and independent journalism that can prevent their abuse by the government to impose  arbitrary censorship.  

We, therefore, call on all Turkey’s parliamentarians who believe in the parliamentary process and the free flow of ideas and information as central to a democratic society, to vote down this bill.

Uluslararası kurumlar, Türkiye meclisini dijital sansürün bir aracı olarak görülen “dezenformasyon” yasa tasarısına karşı çıkmaya çağırıyor.

Yirmi üç uluslararası basın özgürlüğü, ifade hürriyeti ve gazetecilik örgütü, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi’nin (AKP) ve iktidar müttefiki Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP) tarafından 27 Mayıs’ta meclise sunduğu “dezenformasyon ve yalan haber” konulu yasa tasarısının bugün yayınladıkları bir ortak açıklamayla derhal geri çekilmesi çağrısında bulundu.

Tasarıda, korku ve panik yaratmaya, ülkenin iç ve dış güvenliğini, kamu düzenini ve Türkiye toplumunun genel sağlığını tehlikeye atmayı amaçlayan “dezenformasyon ve yalan haber” kasıtlı olarak yayımlamaktan suçlu bulunanlar üç yıla kadar hapisle tehdit ediliyor.
Dezenformasyon ve ‘niyet’ tanımının bu kadar muğlak bırakıldığı böyle bir yasa tasarısı, Türkiye’de milyonlarca internet kullanıcısını iktidarın onaylamadığı bilgileri paylaştığı için cezai işlem riskiyle karşı karşıya bırakıyor.

Türkiye’nin son derece politize olmuş yargısının ellerine bırakılan yasa, gazetecileri ve aktivistleri taciz etmenin başka bir aracı haline gelebilir ve internette kapsamlı bir otosansüre neden olabilir.

Tasarı ayrıca, bilgilerin anonim kullanıcı hesaplarından yayınlandığı durumlarda herhangi bir hapis cezasını yüzde 50 oranında artıracaktır. Bu, internetteki anonimliği ciddi şekilde baltalar ve yolsuzluk ve görevi kötüye kullanmanın kanıtlarını yayınlamak isteyebilecek ancak kamuoyuna açıklanmanın sonuçlarına dair çekinceleri olan kişileri daha da korkutur.

İktidarda bulunan AKP ve MHP ittifakı, tasarının Avrupa Birliği’nin Dijital Hizmetler Yasası ve Genel Veri Koruma Yönetmeliği ile uyumlu olduğunu iddia ediyor, ancak bu yasaların kapsamında böyle bir hüküm bulunmuyor.

Kanun tasarısı, haber sitelerini de Basın Kanunu kapsamına almayı öngörüyor. Bu, internet ortamında faaliyet gösteren mecralara bağlı gazetecilere resmi basın kartı tahsisi sağlayacak ve ayrıca kurumlara da Basın İlan Kurumu (BİK) aracılığıyla kamu reklam fonlarına erişimi mümkün kılacak. Ancak uygulamada bu, iktidarın hükümet yanlısı haber sitelerini finanse etmesine ve dezenformasyon yasasını ihlal ettiği düşünülen eleştirel medyayı kısıtlamasına olanak tanıyacaktır.

Taslak aşamasında hükümetin uluslararası dijital platformlarla bir istişare düzenlediği, ancak mevzuattan en çok etkilenmesi beklenen bu gruplara ve temsilcilerine, medya temsilcileri, editörler, gazetecilik dernekleri veya sendikalar ile herhangi bir görüşme yapmadığı bildirildi.
Tasarı şu anda Meclis aşamasında. Ancak, Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi’nin rolü, Başkanlık sistemi tarafından o kadar ağır bir şekilde sarsıldı ki, yasa tasarısı uygun bir inceleme veya tartışma yapılmadan aceleye getirilmekte ve birkaç gün içinde hızla yasalaşması bekleniyor.

Dezenformasyon önemli bir konu ve mücadele edilmesi gerekiyor, ancak gazetecilerin haklarını ve kamuoyunun ifade hürriyetini kısıtlamak pahasına böylesi bir adım atılamaz. Bu tür girişimler, medya ve diğer paydaşlarla yakın istişare içinde geliştirilmeli ve hükûmet tarafından keyfi bir biçimde sansür uygulamak için bunların kötüye kullanılmasını önleyebilecek ifade hürriyeti ve bağımsız habercilik için yeterli güvenceleri içermelidir.

Bu nedenle, meclis aşamasında, demokratik bir toplumun temeli olarak ifade hürriyeti ve bilginin serbestçe dolaşabilmesine inanan Türkiye’deki tüm milletvekillerini bu tasarıyı reddetmeye çağırıyoruz.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Articolo 21 
  • Association of European Journalists
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Danish PEN
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Foreign Media Association (FMA)
  • IFEX
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Media Research Association (MEDAR)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PEN America
  • PEN International
  • PEN Norway
  • Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Swedish Pen
  • The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project
  • World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)

This statement was coordinated by ECPMF and IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Güngör Arslan, murdered journalist in Turkey Library

Turkey: MFRR calls for swift and thorough investigation into…

Turkey: MFRR calls for swift and thorough investigation into murder of Güngör Arslan

The partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) strongly condemn the murder of Güngör Arslan, the owner and managing editor of the local Ses Kocaeli newspaper in Turkey.

On Saturday 19 February, Arslan was attacked in front of his office and shot in the chest and leg. He was taken to hospital, where he died of his injuries. In a written statement, the Governor’s office announced that a 21-year-old suspect had been taken into custody. According to news reports, the suspect claimed he killed Arslan because he did not like his writing.

The MFRR welcomes the speedy arrest by the police and calls for a swift and thorough investigation and prosecution of the gunman and those who may have assisted or ordered the murder. This must shed light on the reasons for the attack, including any possible links with his journalistic work, and ensure all those responsible are held to account in court. In a broadcast made before the attack, Arslan had stated that he had previously suffered attacks for “trying to do his job as a journalist”.

Endemic impunity for murder of journalists in Turkey

In this regard, we reiterate our longstanding concerns about the endemic impunity for murders of journalists in Turkey: there has been no or incomplete justice for Uğur Mumcu, assassinated outside his home in Ankara in 1993; Metin Göktepe, tortured and murdered in police custody in Istanbul in 1996; Hrant Dink, assassinated in Istanbul in 2007; Naji Jerf, gunned down in Gaziantep in 2015; Rohat Aktaş, found dead in Cizre in 2016; or Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in a Saudi consulate in 2018.

In his last article published before his death, Arslan criticised Mayor Tahir Büyükakın of the Kocaeli Metropolitan area in relation to the allocation of a housing construction tender to the company of a close friend of Büyükakın. In 2021, Arslan spent 188 days in pre-trial detention on allegations of blackmail. He was released at his first hearing at the Kocaeli 12th Criminal Court of First Instance. After the attempted coup of 2016, he was detained as a FETÖ suspect. He was acquitted at trial, but his newspaper and property were seized.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Turkey: 27 international media freedom and free expression groups…

Turkey: 27 international media freedom and free expression groups call for release of journalist Sedef Kabaş

27 undersigned human rights and journalists’ organizations including the MFRR consortium members, call for the immediate release of journalist Sedef Kabaş following her late-night arrest on January 22 and for an end to the judicial harassment of independent media.

On January 22, Kabaş was detained during a midnight police raid in Istanbul following critical comments she made about Turkish President Erdoğan on a program aired on January 14 on TV broadcaster TELE1. In the programme, Kabaş quoted a Circassian proverb on air as follows: “An ox does not become a king as it ascends to a palace, but the palace becomes a barn.” Kabaş added, “There is a very famous proverb that says that a crowned head becomes wiser. But we see it is not true.” This remark was interpreted as an insult directed at Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and prosecutors opened an investigation shortly after Kabaş made the remarks. Article 299 of the Turkish Criminal Code makes it a crime to insult the president, and those found guilty of doing so face a prison sentence of between one and four years.

Following the programme, a number of governmental officials condemned Kabaş’s remarks on social media. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said while Kabaş was being held for questioning that her words went “beyond the limit”, “stem from hatred”, and “shall find a response in front of justice”. Following Gül’s statement, Kabaş was arrested on a charge of “insulting the president”.

On January 26, Kabaş’s lawyer announced that their appeal against her arrest had been rejected by the criminal court. Kabaş’s lawyer also claimed that Minister Gül’s intervention had influenced the judiciary and thereby violated both the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) with regards to Article 6 on the right to a fair trial.

Last October, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the offence of insulting the president under Turkish criminal law is incompatible with freedom of expression. The court also found no justification for the imposition of police custody or a criminal sanction in the case before the court, which involved an individual who posted critical content about Erdoğan on Facebook.

Prior to Kabaş’s arrest, Ebubekir Şahin, president of Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), announced that RTÜK had initiated a probe into TELE1 regarding Kabaş’s remarks. On January 24, RTÜK issued a 5 percent revenue fine and a five-day programme broadcast ban against TELE1. After TELE1 journalist Uğur Dündar criticized RTÜK over the decision, the body issued another 3 percent revenue fine against the channel.

In addition, Alican Uludağ, a judicial reporter and Ankara chairperson of the Journalists Union of Turkey, received death threats on Twitter following his reports noting that the judge who ordered the arrest of Kabaş was the same judge who ordered the re-arrest of Osman Kavala in 2020.

Therefore we, the undersigned organizations, request:

  • The immediate release of Sedef Kabaş and of all other detained or arrested journalists
  • A full investigation into the death threats against Alican Uludağ, whose safety and protection must be guaranteed by the authorities
  • The withdrawal of RTÜK’s broadcast fines and bans against TELE1 and an end to the discriminatory issuing of punitive measures against independent broadcasters by RTÜK

Signed by:

  • Articolo 21
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Danish PEN
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Freedom House
  • German PEN
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PEN America
  • PEN Centre of Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • PEN International
  • PEN Iraq
  • PEN Melbourne
  • PEN Norway
  • PEN Québec
  • PEN Turkey
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • San Miguel PEN
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Swedish PEN
  • WAN-IFRA

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Turkey: IPI calls for release of Turkey journalist Sedef…

Turkey: MFRR partner IPI calls for release of journalist Sedef Kabaş

Kabaş arrested and charged with insulting the president after comments on television programme. The IPI global network and IPI’s Turkey National Committee call for the immediate release of Turkish journalist and author Sedef Kabaş, who was arrested over the weekend on charges of “insulting the president”.

On January 22, Kabaş was detained during a midnight police raid following critical comments she made about Turkish President Erdoğan on a program aired last week on TV broadcaster TELE1. The police raided Kabaş’s home at 2 am and took the journalist into custody for questioning.

Prosecutors had opened an investigation shortly after Kabaş made the remarks. In the programme, Kabaş quoted a Circassian proverb on air as follows: “A cow does not become a king as it ascends to a palace, but the palace becomes a barn.” Kabaş added, “There is a very famous proverb that says that a crowned head becomes wiser. But we see it is not true.”

Following the programme, a number of governmental officials, including Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül, reacted on their social media accounts condemning Kabaş’s remarks. Following Minister Gül’s statement saying that these words go “beyond the limit”, “stem from hatred”, and “shall find a response in front of justice”, Kabaş was arrested on a charge of “insulting the president”.

With Kabaş’s arrest, the number of journalists in prison in Turkey rose to 38, according to IPI figures.

Prior to Kabaş’s arrest, Ebubekir Şahin, president of Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), said that the RTÜK had also initiated a probe into TELE1 regarding Kabaş’s remarks. During the Council meeting held on January 24, RTÜK issued a 5 percent revenue fine against TELE1 due to the statements and issued a five-day broadcasting ban on the programme. After TELE1 journalist Uğur Dündar criticized RTÜK over the decision, the body issued another 3 percent revenue fine against the channel.

“Harmless news or undisturbing comments can be made in any country in the world. But in developed democracies, freedom of the press and expression includes the right to receive shocking and disturbing news and comments as well, as has been repeatedly recognized by the European Court of Human Rights. In such democracies, it is expected that public officials must demonstrate a higher tolerance for criticism”, IPI Turkey National Committee Chair Emre Kızılkaya said.

Kızılkaya said that there can be no democracy when the press is silenced. “In its 72 years of operation, IPI has recorded countless press freedom violations in Turkey where politicians tried to silence journalists. But journalists have not stayed silent, nor they have given up. All those politicians who endangered democracy for their own sake and position left, but the passion for journalism among new generations has remained infinite. The important thing is solidarity among journalists and readers’ appreciation of quality journalism without falling into the trap of cheap politics.”

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen condemned the arrest of Kabaş.

“Journalists, and indeed all citizens, have the right to criticize their elected officials, even if that criticism is shocking or disturbing to some. That is how democracies work”, he said. “As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey is bound to respect these long-established principles. We call for the immediate release of Sedef Kabaş and the dropping of all charges against her, and we urge Turkey to abolish its law on insulting the president in line with international human rights standards.”

He added: “We are also disturbed by RTÜK’s decision to punish TELE1, which continues the council’s pattern of disproportionately targeting independent television broadcasters in Turkey. RTÜK, too, must respect the fundamental right of freedom of expression, and we call on RTÜK to rescind both the fine and the broadcast ban against TELE1.”

RTÜK also recently issued a 3 percent administrative revenue fine against Fox TV over news anchor Selçuk Tepeli’s comments critical of the government. According to RTÜK opposition member İlhan Taşçı, the total amount of administrative fines given in the January 24 meeting amounts to 6 million Turkish Liras (approx. 400,000 euros).

Last year in October, IPI led a joint press freedom mission to Turkey to meet officials and various institutions in Istanbul and Ankara. The mission delegation included representatives of a number of leading international press freedom and free expression organizations including IPI, Article 19, CPJ, ECPMF, HRW, OBCT, PEN International, RSF and SEEMO.

The mission delegation raised concerns about jailed journalists in Turkey; bans and fines by RTÜK and Press Advertising Agency (BİK) aimed at silencing critical media; and digital censorship.

This statement was coordinated by IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Turkey: Concern over proposals to introduce new regulation of…

Turkey: Concern over proposals to introduce new regulation of “fake” and “foreign-funded” news

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and undersigned partner organisations are concerned about and condemn recent statements by Turkish President Erdoğan and other government officials pertaining to the introduction of new regulation of so-called fake news and “foreign-funded” news in the country. Officials’ targeting several critical and independent media outlets for securing funds abroad is a clear move to stifle further the free media in Turkey by controlling content. We call on the Turkish legislators to ensure that any new measures are fully in line with Turkey’s obligations under domestic and international law that protect free speech and media pluralism.

On 21 July, President Erdoğan in an interview was asked whether there is a law that envisages serious criminal sanctions for disseminating fake news through traditional and social media. In response, he announced that a study will be carried out in Parliament in October, after the summer recess, that will address the issue, building on the social media law that was passed last year. Erdoğan characterised fake news as a threat to Turkish democracy on par with terrorism, in which opposition parties are implicated. The same day, the Presidential Communications Directorate announced that Parliament will take new legal steps against foreign funding of local media outlets “to ensure the people’s access to accurate news”.

These statements were followed by a social media campaign targeting specific independent outlets such as Medyascope for receiving funds from the US-based Chrest Foundation. Medyascope received the 2016 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award for its progressive and critical news coverage in Turkey.

Taken together, these statements create the impression that the Turkish government is preparing to introduce new legal measures that will further undermine media freedom and pluralism in the country.

In relation to so-called fake news, we are concerned that enacting any kind of legal duty of “truth” will in practice amount to the creation of a new tool for government censorship: empowering public officials to decide what is true and what is not entails accepting that the authorities have a right to silence voices with whom they disagree. This prospect is especially worrisome in light of Turkey’s poor track record in respecting freedom of speech and legitimate criticism of the authorities. Accordingly, as we recognise that the spread of disinformation and propaganda is indeed of concern, we urge that any measures to counter it must be based on international freedom of expression law and standards, such as those set out in the 2017 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda.

Furthermore, we note that funding media via (foreign) project funding has become an important source of income for many independent outlets in Turkey, as government pressure has intensified, including through the lack of local funds for media outlets critical of the government and uneven distribution of public advertising, as well as the imposition of fines and advertisement bans by media regulator Radio & TV Higher Council (RTÜK) and public advertising agency BIK. We are concerned that measures to restrict foreign funding, or to paint its recipients as foreign propagandists, are a clear move to demonise the free media and will further increase the pressure on the few remaining independent outlets. Currently, more than 90% of domestic media are directly or indirectly controlled by the government or the ruling AKP.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Articolo21
  • Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
  • Association of Journalists, Ankara
  • Broadcast and Printing Press Workers Union of Turkey / DİSK Basın-İş
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Danish PEN
  • English PEN
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • IFEX
  • IFoX Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
  • IPS Communication  Foundation
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS)
  • Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
  • Media Research Association (MEDAR)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • PEN International
  • PEN Netherlands
  • PEN Vlaanderen
  • South East Europe Media Organisation  (SEEMO)
  • Swedish PEN