Censorship: President Gül approves tighter control of Internet

Turkey’s president announced his approval of the new law tightening control over the Internet, bolstering embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but deepening concerns about free speech and the rule of law.
Gül said on his Twitter account he gave his approval after the government announced it would push through parliament an amendment of the new legislation in response to the president’s concerns regarding two articles in the law.      

The bill, passed by parliament this month and was approved by President Abdullah Gül late Tuesday, are seen by Erdoğan’s critics as an authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his government, a bid to stymie court cases and to stop leaks circulating online.

The new law on the judiciary will give the government more influence over the naming of judges and prosecutors, while the Internet bill will enable the authorities to block access to web pages within hours without a prior court order.

The moves by Turkey, which has been seeking membership of the European Union for decades, have raised concern in Brussels, which fears it is shifting further away from EU norms, and unnerved investors in a country whose stability over the past decade has been based on Erdoğan’s firm rule.

Police fired teargas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Internet law in İstanbul this month, and parliamentarians debating the judicial reforms came to blows on Sunday, leaving one with a broken nose.

Erdoğan’s opponents have called on Gül, who co-founded the ruling AK Party with him in 2001 but is generally seen as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister, to use his powers to veto the bills. Speaking to reporters on a trip to Hungary late on Monday, he gave little sign he would do so.

“As the president I cannot put myself in the position of the constitutional court. But in a very general way, I can make my objections concerning the points I see,” he was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet and Habertürk newspapers.

Gül pointed out he had raised concerns about the AK Party’s first draft of the judicial reform bill, which had since been amended, and that the opposition had already indicated it would in any case appeal to the constitutional court.

“That is our tradition. Presidents before me would say ‘the constitutional court decides on the subject of laws in which there are arguments for and against’,” he was quoted as saying.

Gül has also said there are “problems” with some elements of the Internet law, which the country’s communications minister was quoted on Tuesday as saying may still be amended.

Soon after the announcement of his approval of the controversial Internet bill on Twitter, President Gül lost nearly 18,000 followers. People launched a campaign on social media using the hashtag #UnFollowAbdullahGul, calling on people to un-follow the president, who they say stood by the government instead of using his power to veto the bill.

People strongly criticized the president for his pragmatist, risk-averse approach to critical issues that spur endless recriminations and squabbles between political parties in Parliament.

Many people have called on President Gül to intervene to defuse the political standoff following the wrangling over the HSYK bill and corruption scandal, but their calls had little impact as the president steadfastly rejected any role to break the impasse. His intervention-free approach in critical matters drew the ire of government opponents, who claim that Gül intentionally avoids any confrontation with his ex-party fellows — the AK Party government — and even gives his blessing to Erdoğan in the most troubling of times.

Political ambition

Gül has made little secret of his desire to return to mainstream politics and is seen as a future leader of the AKP, an ambition his critics say leaves him too wary of conflict with Erdoğan to act as an effective check on his power.

“Gül wants to serve as president for a second term and has the desire to chair the AKP after Erdoğan, so even if he does not fully agree, he is approving controversial reGguations from the party,” Turkish political analyst Atilla Yeşilada said in a report.

The battle for control of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior members of the judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdoğan and his critics.

Erdoğan blames Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, a former ally who helped cement AK Party support over the past decade, for unleashing the graft investigation, which he sees as an attempted “judicial coup” meant to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year. Gülen denies any such role.

Gül is seen as enjoying more support from Gülen’s network of sympathizers, who view themselves as pro-democratic and reformist, then Erdoğan, whose views on issues from abortion to alcohol they see as unnecessary interference in private life.

In the eyes of Turkey’s opposition, too weak in parliament to stall AKP bills, that opens the way for Erdoğan to impose an increasingly authoritarian rule.

“If the president approves the HSYK law, the judiciary will be bound completely to the government. The separation of powers will be completely shelved,” said Devlet Bahçeli, head of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“I fear that Prime Minister Erdoğan will sit at the top of the judiciary as the chief judge.”

Reklamlar

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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