On Wednesday, the Turkish parliament with a show of hands approved another blatantly anti-democratic piece of legislation. It authorizes the Director of Telecommunications (TIB) to block websites at will with no judicial oversight. A single person can shut down any webpage or site. Servers that do not comply are fined. The legislation also requires Internet providers to keep records of every individual’s internet use over two years and to make that information available to the authorities. Users would be unaware of what information is being gathered about their Internet use and what is done with it. The possibilities for abuse are legion.
Although the AKP claims it is acting in the interest of protecting “family, children, and youth,” it is obvious to everyone that the law was passed in order to plug alternative news sources, now that the Turkish press has been cowed into obedience, from publishing information about the corruption cases against PM Erdogan and his circle. Evidence has been leaked over Internet-based news sites that are the refuge of often prominent journalists who have been fired from mainstream papers for doing their job and reporting the news.
The corruption cases led to arrests of people high in PM Erdogan’s circle, the resignation of several ministers and others. Instead of calling for an independent inquiry, however, the prime minister instead in spectacular fashion tried to squash the case by firing or moving prosecutors and thousands of police. He has blamed “outside enemies” like the US and “inside enemies” like Gulen’s Hizmet movement for orchestrating all of this, from Gezi to the corruption cases, to the decline of the economy. The corruption cases have languished, despite evidence and the testimony of whistle blowers, and police are refusing to carry out arrest orders.
It is noteworthy that the prime minister, to my knowledge, hasn’t actually said that there is no fire where the smoke is billowing fast and furious, that is, that there is no corruption. Only that the allegations were brought by people with evil intentions against him and against Turkey. In this rationale, he is reviving the 20th-century Turkish threat paradigm that basically blames everything that goes wrong in Turkey, all the way down to construction accidents, on “outside enemies” wishing Turkey harm. Wasn’t one of AKP’s early campaign slogans about responsibility?
The law censoring the Internet still needs to be signed by President Gul. This will be another test of Gul’s democratic chops. He failed the last test when he signed a law that forbade medical personnel from assisting the wounded without government approval, a damaging law that was developed solely in order to stop assistance to demonstrators but that might have a chilling effect on medical assistance in times of emergency, like an earthquake. (Although the medical association has said it would not comply.) And to my great surprise, President Gul signed it. Will he sign the law censoring the Internet? Probably. My faith in President Gul as a leader with backbone fades from day to day.
What all of these recent events have in common is a lack of respect for law and judicial process. The law is a stick used by one group to bludgeon another. And if that doesn’t work, the law is entirely bypassed with no apology. (Setting a precedent for lawlessness, by the way, the downstream effect of which will be felt in society at all levels.) Turkey should worry not about becoming Iran, but about becoming Italy under Berlusconi. The outside world won’t fear Turkey, it will roll its eyes at a country’s ability to wallow in self-delusion. If PM Erodogan ever starts dying his hair, watch out.