President Gül at the crossroads over Internet law [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]
(Cihan News Agency (Turkey) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- A bill introducing tight restrictions on Internet use was passed in Parliament on Feb. 5 despite objections from the majority of the public, who staged street protests and conducted a major social media campaign against the bill under the title "HandsOffMyInternet".
After the adoption of the bill, which turned it into law, those opposing its regulations only had one hope left: a possible veto by President Abdullah Gül. Many local and international civil rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and top officials of the EU, which Turkey is bidding to become a member of, called on Gül to veto the law. The main concern of Internet users is that the new Internet law would prevent their access to news reports on corruption allegations involving Cabinet members and high-profile businessmen, with many commentators seeing it as an attempt by the government to cover up reports on graft.
Since a major police operation carried out on Dec. 17 as part of a corruption investigation which led four ministers to leave office, there have been plenty of documents and wiretapped phone conversations circulating on the Internet, which involves leading businessmen, government officials and even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With the new Internet law, the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), a government body, will be able to block access to websites without any court orders by claiming that the content violates privacy. President Gül has been examining the Internet law with his legal experts since Monday and will have to reach a decision within 15 days of Feb. 10.
Zaman daily columnist Mustafa Ünal wrote a piece on Friday titled "Is this a signal for a veto?" Pointing out that Gül has 11 days left to decide on the Internet law, Ünal said: "The question asked by not only Ankara but the whole of Turkey is: Will President Gül approve the new Internet regulation? Letters were written and calls were made to the president for him to veto it. It is not only opposition parties that are against it but major social groups as well. It is disturbing to associate the Internet with censorship and bans, especially for foreign countries. Turkey is conducting negotiation talks with the EU for full membership. It is completely natural for some Western centers, including Europe, to be closely following our Internet debate." According to Ünal, some regulations for the Internet might be needed but they should not be included in an omnibus bill and should not be rushed to be adopted by Parliament. Internet users, which Ünal says consists of almost half of the Turkish population, should discuss such a bill in detail, Ünal wrote.
Stating that the government has no solid grounds for bringing such restrictions on the Internet, Ünal said how President Gül, who is known as a pro-freedom leader, will act at this point is vital. Ünal added that Gül's response to a relevant question on Thursday was: "There are a couple of problematic issues [with the law]. We are working on them," which can be read as a signal for a veto, since he accepted that the law is problematic.
The Bugün daily's Adem Yavuz Arslan quoted Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag's recent remarks, "God does not accept a partner, so does the state," in his Friday column. Arslan wrote that this was Bozdag's response to a question concerning the government's interference in the judiciary after the Dec. 17 corruption operation. According to Arslan, this rhetoric means: "We are the government and we can rule on any issue without consulting anyone. Everyone must obey us without any reservations." Arslan said every law discussed in Parliament is tackled under this mentality and the Internet law was no exception. "Under the cover of 'protecting privacy,' which sounds appealing, the government is simply aiming to supervise the Internet," Arslan said.
GÜNAY HILAL AYGÜN (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CIHAN
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