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Turkish law gets EU finger wag

February 6, 2014

The EU has criticized Turkey’s tightened Internet controls. Lawmakers adopted the new Internet legislation late on Wednesday following hours of debate involving fierce objections from the opposition.

Turkish parliament
Image: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

The criticism came after Turkey's parliament amended regulations allowing the government to block websites without a court order and mandate Internet service providers to store data up to two years. President Abdullah Gul still must sign the new law, which allows the blocking of websites believed to violate privacy or contain content considered insulting.

"The law needs to be revised in line with European standards," said Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele. "The Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions."

The legislation also forces providers to retain user data for two years and present it to authorities without notifying the user in question. The new measures build upon existing Internet restrictions introduced in 2007 that, according to a Google transparency report published in December, make Turkey equal to China as the world's biggest web censor.

The 2007 law has allowed for temporary blocking of websites including WordPress, Dailymotion and Vimeo. YouTube was also blocked for two years until 2010.

Tensions with EU

Fuele and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton plan to meet Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Monday in Brussels. Turkey has sought EU membership for 26 years. In November, the EU revived negotiations after three years of stalemate, owing mostly to Franco-German opposition and tensions with Cyprus.

Stano offered the help of the bloc's executive commission "to ensure that any changes to this legislation will fully respect European standards."

On Twitter Thursday, European Parliament President Martin Schulz called the legislation a step back in an "already suffocating environment for media freedom."

During talks this week in Berlin, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to lend more support to Turkey's bid to join the EU. Merkel said the accession talks should continue without any time limits.

Questions of corruption

The amendments arose in December, after a corruption inquiry implicated businessmen linked to Erdogan - the prime minister since 2003 - who has called the investigation a conspiracy. Since then, Cabinet ministers have resigned, protesters have demanded that Erdogan step down, and hundreds of police officers have found themselves sacked or reassigned.

In mid-2013, Erdogan, of the Justice and Development Party, faced accusations of authoritarianism after crackdowns on protesters opposed to government plans for commercial redevelopment of Istanbul's Gezi Park. At the height of those tensions, demonstrators took to social media as the main means of communication to vent their frustration and organize their protests.

Opposition politicians and critics have branded this latest legislation censorship. They claim it is a fresh assault from Erdogan's government on freedom of expression, press freedoms and access to information, particularly in light of the recent demonstrations.

"When you came to power you talked of enhancing democracy in Turkey," opposition lawmaker Hasan Oren said Wednesday, addressing the prime minister and his ruling coalition. "Now you are trying to implement fascism."

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)