President Gül questions controversial Internet bill
“There are a few difficult issues, we are still working on it.”
This is the one sentence answer given by Turkish President Abdullah Gül to reporters’ questions on Feb. 13 over whether he will approve the controversial Internet bill that Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government has voted through Parliament.
There have been strong reactions not only from Turkish opposition parties but also from European political bodies and domestic and international media NGOs against the bill, saying that it restricts freedom of expression. All have been calling on Gül not to approve the bill and sign it into law.
Prime Minister Erdoğan, on the other hand, rejects the criticisms and says the bill would “not abolish Internet communications but only take them under better control.” The bill was submitted to Parliament after the start of the graft probes on Dec. 17, 2013, when a series of recordings of tapped telephone conversations regarding alleged corruption cases involving government members and also Erdoğan and his family members leaked onto the web.
Describing this as “unacceptable and unethical,” Erdoğan says it was a violation of privacy because the recordings were illegal and also edited in such a way as to give the impression of corruption. It was not only about himself and his family, Erdoğan said, but the series of measures have been taken in order to prevent the “slandering” of individuals through the Internet. “We cannot bow to an understanding of throwing mud and seeing if it sticks,” he said in a recent speech.
A week after the start of the graft probes, he appointed an officer from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) as the head of the web watchdog Telecommunications Board (TİB). Following that, the government took another step by saying that the head of the TİB (just like the head of the MİT) could only be questioned by prosecutors after the prime minister’s permission was given. Erdoğan says the Internet bill, which is still waiting for the president’s approval, suggests that the head of the TİB will only be able to stop an Internet broadcast on the basis of protecting privacy and preventing slender, which could only be objected to in courts.
President Gül has been avoiding questions about the bill, as he is trying to avoid any confrontation with Erdoğan, in order not to add to the already high political tension in the country. If he rejects the bill or sends it to the Constitutional Court, demanding an annulment, it could turn into a serious political crisis.
Therefore, what Gül said yesterday means that he had already intervened in the situation and is trying to find a solution by holding behind the door conversations with the government, probably through his legal advisors in the Çankaya Palace. Gül might be searching for a solution that would prevent him from objecting to the government and would moderate the bill at the same time.
That would probably satisfy neither the government, nor the opposition, nor the media institutions, which is another way of describing a political compromise in order to avoid a crisis.