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SEMİH İDİZ > Turkey takes another step backwards

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By signing the new Internet law President Abdullah Gül has not only gone against a strong body of domestic and international pubic opinion, but has also disregarded warnings from the EU, whose criteria on democracy and freedoms he has ostensibly been plugging.

As to the last minute changes to the law on his request, which Gül says enabled him to endorse it, these are still not enough to bring it in line with the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria. The fact that Gül has not given any signal that he will send this law to the Constitutional Court is also glaring.

It is the main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) that will now pursue the matter in the highest court of the land. And should that court rule in favor of the law, the matter will go to the European Court of Human Rights. But if the Constitutional Court rules against the law, this will look doubly bad for Gül.

Many already feel he is no longer the president of the nation, but the president of a particular political party that is pursuing a restrictive religious line. It appears Mr. Gül has political plans for the future that require the support of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Islamist grass roots supporters.

He is, therefore, prepared to even undermine the persona he has been building for himself as a devout, but nevertheless Western-oriented liberal democrat. There is speculation now that he will most likely endorse the equally controversial new law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which legal experts say violates the separation of powers principle.

Gül’s endorsement of the Internet law also appears to settle the question of what he intends to do after his term as president ends in a few months. Many believe he will aim to lead the AKP and hence vie for the premiership, allowing Prime Minister Erdoğan to ascend to the presidency. 

This, it is argued, is why he needs the AKP’s and Erdoğan’s support, which in turn makes it important not to create problems for them at such a moment. There is also another view, of course. Some say that Gül knew he would be harshly criticized over the Internet law, so would therefore endorse the HSYK law but send it to the Constitutional Court later - as he has a right to - in an effort to improve his image.

But the CHP has decided to take this law to the Constitutional Court before Gul’s decision. The reason why is obvious. Once Gül endorses the law it comes into force, even if he sends it to the Constitutional Court later, and can be used by the government to do what it wants until the Court rules on its constitutionality.

And should the Court decide it is not constitutional, its ruling is not retroactive, giving the government the advantage it needs. The CHP therefore wants an immediate stay of execution from the Constitutional Court on the HSYK law until it rules on it. Needless to say, all of these developments will also determine the value of this Court.

The bottom line for the moment, however, is that under the new Internet law a government-appointed bureaucrat will have the power to ban any Internet page he deems inappropriate without a court order. Under the changes made to the law, on Gül’s request, that bureaucrat will have to get a court order within 24 hours for his decision to stand.

But this doesn’t answer the question why a government appointee should have such a right in the first place, and why, if a court order is to be sought within 24 hours of a banning order, the same court order cannot be sought before a banning order.

Many would also argue, of course, that given the way the AKP is bringing the legal system under its control to avoid further corruption charges, it will not have much to worry about in seeking a court order after a banning decision involving the Internet.

All speculation aside, what is certain for the moment is that Turkey has taken yet another step backwards under the AKP, and it has Mr. Gül to thank this time.

February/20/2014

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