Turkish President Gül hints at approving disputed Internet bill

Turkish President Gül hints at approving disputed Internet bill

Deniz ZEYREK Hürriyet / BUDAPEST
Turkish President Gül hints at approving disputed Internet bill

Visiting Turkish President Abdullah Gül (L) and his Hungarian counterpart Janos Ader inspect the soldiers at the Sandor Palace in Bucharest. Despite the ongoing outcry, Gül has signaled that he will approve the Internet bill. AA photo

President Abdullah Gül has hinted at his intention to approve much-disputed laws on the Internet and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), despite strong criticism from the European Union and the opposition.  

Gül indirectly referred to the Constitutional Court as the venue for an in-depth analysis of these two key legal changes.

“As the president, I cannot put myself into the position of the Constitutional Court. I just make my objections on flagrant [violations]. The opposition party has already declared that it will take it to the Constitutional Court. This is our tradition. My predecessors have also been saying that the Constitutional Court has to decide on disputed laws,” Gül told journalists travelling with him to Hungary late Feb. 16. 

Both laws have been much discussed within Turkish society and abroad as they were seen as key legal moves that would increase the government’s control on the Internet and over the entire judicial system. The EU has already stressed to the government that both amendments violated the EU acquis. 

Recalling that Turkey was a country negotiating with the EU for full membership and that it was not a country that restricted the use of the Internet, Gül, however, drew attention to the fact that no democracy allowed total freedom on the Internet. “Whatever is a crime in real life is also a crime in virtual life or on the Internet. What’s the problem when it comes to the Internet? You can find the perpetrators in real life but it’s very hard on the Internet. A balance is needed between providing freedoms and taking care not to allow for a criminal medium. Problems can occur if we go over the limits when we are doing so,” he said. 

Gül said there were one or two problematic issues with regard to the Internet law and that he had shared his opinions with the government. “We are working to find a way. But in general, there is the problem of perception. If this law were to have been passed two-three years ago, there would be no such perception. There were some further negative points with regard to the previous law [on the Internet] which was approved by unanimity. However, some good points with the current amendment are not being mentioned at all. If these good points could have been passed two years ago, then there would be no blackmailing of lawmakers, a party chairman and numerous individuals.”

Human dignity was above everything, Gül added. “There are good points to protect the human dignity [in this law]. We’ll continue to work on problematic issues when we return.”  

On the law on the HSYK, Gül said he had highlighted 15 problematic points and expressed his hope that they had been taken into account by the Parliament. “At the end of the day, the final version and its drafts require fair analysis. Attention should be paid if substantial changes have been made. There were regulations that subordinated the HSYK to the justice minister [in the draft] and problems on the election of its chairman. It’s not right to talk about them without looking into these issues,” Gül said.
‘No tolerance’

On the ongoing fight between the government and the Fethullah Gülen community, or the Hizmet Movement, Gül preferred to give indirect messages while hinting he was siding with the government in the conflict. “Let me be clear: No state would tolerate” public servants who preferred their solidarity with non-state actors and non-constitutional authorities, he said. 

“Governments can do wrong, they may have wrong policies. There can be struggles against the government, but they should be within a democratic framework. Government commissary cannot be acceptable as if the government is not mature. In any case, this cannot take place. Political struggles can happen; criticisms can be made through media but no struggle can be carried out through positions within the state. If they take place, they will be challenged through legal ways. There is no other way,” he said.

In response to a question about the gendarmerie’s initiative of stopping trucks belonging to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Gül declined to comment, saying he would not be in a position to bring the gendarmerie against MİT and create an institutional dispute. 

Whatever was necessary should be done after investigating the act in detail, Gül said, confirming that some foreign intelligence services might also seek to gain advantage from the ongoing conflict, which he depicted as Turkey’s Achilles’ Heel. 

Gül also said he was pleased to see Hungary’s support for Turkey’s European Union membership bid, during a press conference with his counterpart, Janos Ader.

Gül invited Ader to Turkey, saying there was a “strong sympathy” between the two countries and with both agreeing to speed up investments. For his part, Ader said there were important developments in the economic relations between Ankara and Budapest and that trade volume had increased by 30 percent in 2013. 

Gül also met with Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Köver and Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

‘I am concerned about wiretapping’

President Abdullah Gül has partially confirmed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s claim that the presidency was also wiretapped, saying his phone conversations while out of the office could have been eavesdropped on. 

“[Arguments that he was wiretapped] are not about our office. We have different information but this is not related with our office. We have very high-level security measures [to secure] our phone conversations, but we are not always in the office. [These wiretappings] can be made in some other places and in some other ways. The prime minister might have meant those,” Gül told journalists traveling with him to Hungary.

Gül said he was concerned about such wiretappings, which in fact amounted to a crime.

“Whatever the purpose is, such illegal listening – conducted without a court decision – constitutes a crime,” he said, underlining the need to take measures to ensure the content of such conversations was not made public, similarly to EU countries.

“They [the EU] have developed an automatic system. We have to take measures if we don’t have such automatic systems,” he said. "It could happen to you today and to someone else tomorrow. We should be principled in this issue," Gül added, describing wiretapping as "unethical."

Touching on a new debate that flared up after evidence proved that a headscarf-wearing woman was not beaten by Gezi Park protesters in June 2013, Gül criticized efforts to disprove the incident. 

“It has already been dropped from the agenda,” he said, adding that he felt sorry about such efforts, without making reference to ongoing prosecutions in which dozens were still under investigation in connection to the young woman’s statements that she was abused by half-naked men in the middle of the day.