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Turkey’s Internet censorship bill sparks protests

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Turkey moved one step closer to totalitarian rule yesterday as the Islamist AKP government pushed legislation through the parliament for censorship of the Internet. The bill gives the government power to censor or block Internet web sites and electronic communications bypassing normal court process. The bill sparked mass protests across the country today as police attacked a peaceful demonstration at Istanbul’s Taksim Square with water cannons.

The bill is an extension of the omnibus legislation that aims to filter works of art, mainly cinema and theatre, through government approval. Initially designed to place decisions at the Minister’s discretion, a last-minute amendment vested the censorship authority in the Directorate of Communications and Telecommunications, which reports to the Minister of Communications Maritimes and Transportation. Opposition critics attacked the bill as censorship of the Internet, while Minister of Communications Lutfi Elvan said that the target wouldn’t be closure of websites but questionable pages on sites that could be blocked selectively if it’s deemed to be in public interest. “On the contrary, it’s a law that will protect individual rights and freedoms” he said. The bill, which doesn’t have any likeness in western countries, empowers the government to block IP’s and URL’s or to block access by altering DNS, the code by which domain names are pointed to web servers.

In 2007 Turkey blocked YouTube for five years under the excuse that YouTube had violated the Turkish criminal code by allowing anti-Ataturk propaganda. The new law goes farther than current criminal provisions that have been applied to the Internet only occasionally. It will now be possible for ordinary citizens to file a complaint and obtain a censorship order within 24 hours. According to Gokhan Ahi, a lawyer and executive of the Total Internet Association, the new law will also be used to prevent fair competition in the marketplace by depriving some companies of online presence under one excuse or another.

Opposition critics claimed the bill was rushed through parliament after what is known as the “December 17” incident when prosecutors indicted several persons close to the government , including sons of cabinet ministers, for graft. The incident revealed a power struggle between the ruling AKP party and followers of Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen aka “The Community”, one time allies. In spite of resignations from the party and sacking of several cabinet ministers, AKP appears to be winning. All prosecutors and police involved in the corruption investigation have been sacked, reassigned or demoted to other posts where they can do no harm. The leading prosecutor in the case is busy trying to clear his own name after a scandal was sprung on him a week ago. According to allegations he denies he accepted an all-expenses-paid trip to Dubai with his family from one of the accused in the corruption scandal.

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