New bill gives Turkish PM power to shut down websites

New bill gives Turkish PM power to shut down websites

New bill gives Turkish PM power to shut down websites

Critics in Turkey keep slamming the government of "censorship" on the Internet, organizing protests. Over 64,000 websites are currently blocked by Turkish authorities. 97 percent of them are blocked by the administration without any court order.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies have prepared a fresh bill to boost the government's control over Internet. 

Last minute amendments to an omnibus bill presented to the parliament on Jan. 23 stipulate that the Prime Minister and his ministers will be able to shut down websites for reasons including "national security" without a court order. 

Keeping public order and ensuring security for life and property are listed in the bill as other possible reasons for Turkey's cabinet members to shut down a website.

If the bill passes the parliament in its current form after the debate scheduled to start next week, Turkish authorities will have an unprecedented power to control the Internet. 

According to the proposed procedure regarding the measures against the "threats" listed in the bill, Turkish officials will first try to block the specific content on a website. If such a pinpointed block is not technically possible, Turkey's Prime Minister and the ministers will be able to order a blanket ban on the website, which would then be applied by the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB).

The ruling AKP's efforts to boost its control over the Internet had been intensified since the Gezi Park protests in June 2013 and the massive corruption investigations launched in December 2013, targeting government figures. Since then, a series of online leaks had damaged the government, which accused prosecutors and police officials who allegedly took orders from the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, the AKP's ally-turned-nemesis. 

While the government argues that the protests and the investigations were part of a "coup plot," its critics claim that the ruling AKP uses them to justify more authoritarian measures and to whitewash widespread corruption. 

As of March 27, just before the March 30 local elections, Turkey banned YouTube after the Google-owned video-sharing website was used to spread leaked audio files from a top-secret state security meeting on Syria. 

It came days after TİB blocked access to the U.S. social network Twitter on March 20, under orders from then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after members of the opposition used it to post telephone recordings implicating him in the corruption scandal.

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

Despite the rulings of Turkey's top court, the government had made it clear last month that it would keep trying to exert greater control over the Internet with a fresh omnibus bill. 

Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan told reporters on Dec. 24 that Article 22 of Turkey's Constitution lists a series of exceptional conditions, including threats on national security and public order, that 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, opposed the government's view on the grounds that it would severely violate democratic rights.