Internet bill may revive Gezi spirit

Internet bill may revive Gezi spirit

Democracy, in general, and the rule of law have been in dire straits in Turkey since Dec. 17, the day when a massive corruption and graft probe engulfing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and some of his Cabinet members was launched. Following an unprecedented purge campaign of thousands of police officers and prosecutors to stop the deepening of the probe, the government has rolled up its sleeves to amend laws to increase its control of the judiciary, the media and the Internet. All these moves aim to cover up corruption and graft allegations and to stop the further exposure of Erdoğan and his ministers’ unethical relations with businessmen.

For many in Ankara, what has been revealed through the Internet so far is only around 5 percent of the whole. They think Erdoğan’s rush to amend the law at the price of moving backward in terms of freedom of expression is because he wants to stop the flow of such conversations on the eve of the March 30 polls.

The new law authorizes the Telecommunications Directorate to shut down websites believed to violate the right of privacy of individuals, without even a court decision. The government is trying to justify this move by saying it’s aiming to protect society’s moral values, and is accusing its opponents of serving what it calls the “porn lobby.” This is not only ridiculous, but it is also misleading, as existent laws already prohibit such websites.

In our age, the words Internet and freedom have overwhelmingly been identified with each other. Restrictions on the use of the Internet are among the most significant indicators determining the level of freedom countries enjoy. According to an updated index, Turkey ranks at the very bottom along with a number of other undemocratic countries. This performance of Erdoğan would surely help him get Turkey into his much-preferred Shanghai Cooperation Organization. 

Erdoğan stood alone in his attempt to raise control over the Internet, as not only opposition parties, civil society organizations and other important institutions have reacted against it, but also as the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United States have been loudly expressing their concerns.

However, the most important reaction could come from the Turkish youth, for which the Internet has already become a way of life. Any restriction or attempt to limit Internet freedom would have a direct effect on the youth and could cause a repetition of last summer’s Gezi Park protests.

In this phase, all eyes have turned to President Abdullah Gül, who now has to make one of the most important decisions of his entire presidential tenure. He is under pressure from both the government and the opposition parties and civil society groups. Letters asking him to veto the law are raining down on the presidency.

With all these reactions against the bill, the president seems to be confused, but he still needs more public pressure to be applied on him to return it to the government.