Turkey’s parliament on Thursday, October 13, approved a tough pre-election law that could see reporters and social media users jailed for up to three years for spreading “fake news”.
The new rules cement the government’s already-firm grip on the media eight months before a general election that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan enters trailing in the polls.
The Council of Europe said the measure’s vague definition of “disinformation” and accompanying threat of jail could have a “chilling effect and increased self-censorship, not least in view of the upcoming elections in June 2023”.
The legislation comprised of 40 amendments that each required a separate vote was proposed by Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP party and furiously opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups.
One lawmaker from the secular CHP party smashed his mobile phone with a hammer in parliament to demonstrate how freedom of expression was being destroyed particularly for the young.
“I would like to address my brothers who are 15, 16, 17 years old and who will be deciding the fate of Turkey in 2023,” CHP lawmaker Burak Erbay said before taking out his hammer.
“You have only one freedom left — the phone in your pocket. There’s Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. You communicate there,” he said ahead of the vote.
“If the law here passes in parliament, you can break your phone like this,” he said.
The government has also started publishing a weekly “disinformation bulletin” aimed at debunking what it deems as false news with “accurate and truthful information”.
Lawmakers rejected repeated opposition attempts to dilute the legislation before the vote.
“This law declares war on the truth,” pro-Kurdish opposition HDP party lawmaker Meral Danis Bektas said.