The United Nations Human Rights Office (UNHRO) Friday expressed concern over Turkey’s adoption of amendments to various laws “that risk substantially curtailing freedom of expression in the country.” On Thursday, Turkey’s parliament passed a new bill that could see journalists and social activists jailed for spreading “disinformation” for up to three years. The bill was proposed last year and was formally introduced in the parliament in May this year.
Marta Hurtado, the UN Rights Office spokesperson, criticized the substance of the law, stating:
Under international human rights law, freedom of expression is not limited to ‘truthful’ information, but applies to ‘information and ideas of all kinds’, both online and offline. Restrictions to freedom of expression shall only be envisaged on legitimate and necessary grounds.
The law has received severe pushback from opposition MPs, European countries, civil society organizations and journalist communities, who deem it a censorship law. According to critics, have termed the new law as being violative of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Turkey in 1954 and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is also a party, in addition to contravening Turkey’s constitution under Article 28 which provides for freedom of press.
One of the most strongly condemned provisions of the new law is Article 29, which penalizes the dissemination of “false information” regarding internal and external security, public order and general wellbeing of the country in order to induce anxiety or panic among the public with imprisonment for up to three years. The same provision prescribes that where false information is disseminated by individuals concealing their real identity, the sentence can increase by fifty percent.
A coalition of twenty-two international organizations called on members of Parliament in Turkey to vote against the bill, which they described as providing “a framework for extensive censorship of online information and the criminalisation of journalism, which will enable the government to further subdue and control public debate in the lead up to Turkey’s general elections in 2023.” As per the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world press freedom index for 2022, Turkey ranks 149 out of 180 countries for press freedom.