Turkey criminalizes spread of ‘disinformation’, up to three years jail term announced

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Turkey criminalized the spread of what authorities describe as false information on digital platforms, giving the government new powers in the months remaining before elections.

The measure, proposed by the governing AK Party and its nationalist ally MHP, is part of a broader “disinformation law” that was adopted by parliament on Thursday. It mandates a jail term of one to three years for users who share online content that contains “false information on the country’s security, public order and overall welfare in an attempt to incite panic or fear.”

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Media groups and opposition parties have decried the bill as censorship, seeing it as a move to stifle critics and journalists in the run-up to elections set for next year.

“The crime is defined with rather vague and open-ended terms,” said Mustafa Kuleli, vice president of the European Federation of Journalists. “It is not clear how prosecutors will take action against those who allegedly spread false information.

Other articles in the law range from amendments to issuance of press cards to the procedure of correcting “false information online.

‘Systematic Censorship’

Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index ranks Turkey 149th out of 180 nations, saying 90% of the national media is under state control. The organization has accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of stepping up attacks on journalists to deflect attention from economic and other problems ahead of elections.

In 2020, Turkey passed a contentious law that obligated social-media companies with more than 1 million daily users in the country to appoint local representatives, and gave authorities more power to block access to sites.

Erdogan has also repeatedly threatened to shut down some social media, citing what he considered to be personal attacks against himself and his family. He’s described the platforms as “a threat to democracy” and “a national security problem.”

Courts banned YouTube and Wikipedia for years, while access to Twitter was slowed to a trickle at times of heightened strife, such as cross-border operations into Syria and terrorist attacks at home.

Kuleli said the law would “boost systematic censorship and self-censorship” in Turkey instead of fighting disinformation.

Read more: Turkey’s ‘disinformation’ bill to have pre-election ‘chilling effect’: Watchdog

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