The Turkish Parliament is set to vote on a new social media bill when its legislative session begins next Saturday, which is aimed at curbing dissent ahead of the upcoming elections in 2023.
The bill would impose heavy sanctions on reporting on the government and the sharing of such reporting on social media, deeming the act of “publicly disseminating misleading information” illegal. A person who “publicly disseminates false information about the internal and external security, public order or general health of the country” or that disturbs the public peace and creates anxiety, fear, or panic can be sentenced to one to three years in prison.
This is just the latest in a gradual descent into authoritarian rule and press censorship for the country under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has been known to arrest journalists, block social media sites, and restrict the internet in parts of the country.
The disinformation bill was proposed last year and has over 40 articles in it. The bill could cripple what remaining digital freedoms are left in the country and proposes similarly strict regulations on traditional print, broadcast, and online media as it does its citizens. Conservative public policy publication the National Interest said Erdoğan is relying on the last tool possible to stay in power.
“[Erdoğan is] intensifying the government’s crackdown on the leaders of the main opposition bloc, stepping up the repressive measures taken against dissident voices, and controlling the narrative on social media under the pretext of fighting against disinformation,” it wrote.
The proposed legislation carries vague definitions of what “disinformation” means and what qualifies “intent,” which could lead to the politicization of the law by the judiciary and put anyone who posts critical views of the government firmly in the crosshairs of the Erdoğan administration.
The bill also carries a clause that enhances prison time if users post information from anonymous accounts. A provision in the legislation loops certain digital media groups under the Official Press Advertising Agency, which accredits and helps fund news agencies. The provision would allow pro-government and government-affiliated news agencies to receive press passes and obtain advertising funds. The law could choke out non-affiliated media outlets and essentially ban all critical dissent of the government.
Turkey claims the law falls within the European Union’s Digital Services Act. The bill is similar to one in Hungary, Poland, and Russia, where governments often exert control over the media and online dissent.
The bill could take effect in in 2023, when Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections will be held.
Erdoğan’s party, the Justice and Development Party, lost its majority in the past election in 2018, but still remains in the ruling coalition, giving this bill a chance to pass.
If Erdoğan wins in 2023, it would be his last term as president.