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In Turkey, an initial “bundle” of laws related to censorship has just been removed from discussion. This plan, initiated on June 24 2020, dealt with food stuffs, agriculture and forests, and was strongly contested and denounced by 61 associations and organizations of civil society, a denunciation supported by a petition.
News laws, new censorship!
This new law stipulated: “all written, visual and sound publications contrary to reality that would not enter in the framework of commercial advertising, disseminated through digital tools and that would create fear and distrust in consumers concerning food, thus affecting consumer habits, shall be considered as “misleading publications” and their authors liable to a penalty ranging from 20 to 50 thousand Turkish lira.”
Thus, this text rendered the communication of any opinion, information, warning, research impossible as they pertained to additives, conservation agents or genetically modified substances, advising the public of dangers linked to unwholesome products. 1
These types of laws censoring information destroy all freedom of expression for authors, journalists, science workers and medical doctors of good will, expressing criticism. Whistle blowers are criminalized.
The withdrawl of this bundle of laws is but a small battle in the bigger one against censorship.
Muzzling all media…
If we speak of “only a small battle” it is because not only the food sector is targeted by unethical laws authorizing and legitimizing censorship. This muzzling is spreading to various areas of information and under different guises.
The Turkish regime is expending colossal efforts to render inaudible all and every voice raised against it. The press, social networks…
Although he himself, as well as his Party the AKP, members of government, his relatives and his “aktrolls“2use and abuse social networks, Erdoğan states from one speech to the next that he “will put the networks in order”. This, ever since the Gezi revolt in 2013 during which social networks played a crucial role in disseminating information and organizing protesters.
In a visioconference from Ankara in mid-July 2020, Erdoğan said the following: “Do you understand now why we are opposed to YouTube, Netflix [pronounced ‘nechflis’], Twitter …those kinds of social networks? It is so as to make those immoralities disappear. My citizens, those people have no morals. As Akif3said: ‘The most monstrous collapse is that of morality. For then, neither the Nation can be saved, nor can freedom’. We are the grandchildren and the children of a Nation of eminent morality, with eminent civilizational values. And we do not want to live to see the progress of those who do not deserve this Nation. The topic on which we must focus here is the following: how is it that the media and particularly the labels of social networks have become instruments for this rottenness. It is imperative to put things in order in those media where lies, calumny, attacks on individual rights, attacks against reputations have become a scourge. These media are not suitable in this Nation, this country. We want to bring them up as quickly as possible in front of our Parliament, my dear citizens, for the total suppression and control of these media.”
[Faithful translation of his words, with no redacting…]
Of course, both for technical reasons and for commercial ones, the total elimination of media and social networks is unrealistic. They are hard to control. Turkey has neither the technical nor the structural means of a China who manages to do so… But Erdoğan’s wish has been realized in a version better-adapted to this country: On October 1st, a new law came into effect in Turkey reinforcing governmental control over social networks.
The Turkish regime requires that Facebook and Twitter both have a representative in Turkey and obey within 48 hours decisions by Turkish tribunals demanding the withdrawal of specific contents. In the case of a lack of compliance the law threatens the platform of a reduction in its bandwidth and fines of up to 4,3 million euros. Moreoever, the law calls on Facebook and Twitter to stock in-country the data on users located in Turkey. In early October, Facebook rejected the Turkish obligation to name representatives within the country.
In this article, we will not deal with the deletions and suspensions of user accounts, already zealously pursued by the moderators of these platform, often following massive reporting.
Instead, let’s talk about “publication prohibitions” of information, a peculiar “concept”, and a super means of censorship and oppression…
This prohibition can be applied on a topic by the Turkish Superior Council on Audiovisuals (RTÜK), responsible for the control and censorship of media. But it can also be decreed by a court decision in a larger version applicable to social networks and all other internet-dependent devices, thus prohibiting everyone to mention the topic in question. Even though these decisions are in violation of certains articles of the law applicable to the press, they are used abusively and regularly…
To summarize, these publication prohibitions are declared at every turn as soon as “sensitive topics” appear those in power would prefer to suppress, or to see treated “otherwise” by media under governmental orders. Of course, journalists doing such reporting and informing public opinion are arrested, and social network users who take the risk of sharing their opinions or of relaying their tweets, are prosecuted.
There are countless examples of this – the attacks in Reyhanlı in 2013, or of Suruç and Ankara in 2015, attributed to Isis…For these, even if the opening of an inquest was a logical decision, this would require it be conducted in a democratic context insuring functional and independent justice… Which is not the case in Turkey.
Censorship imposed during the invasion of Afrin, then that of Northern Syria, save for the versions published in official media.
Another recent example: last September, two Kurdish men were hospitalized in serious condition after having been tortured and “thrown” from an army helicopter. One of the men died. This information raised tremendous indignation and a lot of reactions on social networks, followed by declarations denouncing these barbarous methods. But… the four journalists, Adnan Bilen (MA), Cemil Ugur (MA), Sehriban Abi (Jinnews) and Nazan Salaqui who led the investigations were accused of “terrorism” for “having informed on social networks of events contrary to the interests of the State.” They are now in prison…
Meanwhile, media at the service of those in power carpet their headlines with the names of intellectuals, of defendors of rights, of journalists declared to be “terrorists, sold-out, traitors or yet again spies paid by enemy foreign countries” and display them as full-sized targets, at the mercy of any zealous individual given to violence, when they are not directly caught in the vise of the judicial mechanism. Expressing criticism is criminalized, it is worthy of prison or exile…
But the refusal to obey, to self-censorship or silence can go even further… Another example is that of Can Dündar, the journalist who exposed the existence of trucks loaded with weapons for Isis. The journalist is now in exile in Germany. He is prosecuted for “treason and spying” for he would have “revealed State secrets with the intention to harm”. The accusation even appears like a recognition of this aid, qualifying it of being a “State secret”. A tribunal in Istanbul declared him as a “fugitive” last October 7, and ordered that his belongings be seized…
In Turkey, whistleblowers are kindly invited to be silent, people to lower their heads and to continue surviving in silence, while maintaining their consumption of goods wherever possible…
“Prohibition to inform” on the murder of Samuel Paty, except as propaganda!
While we were preparing this article, another “publication prohibition” appeared, concerning the atrocious murder in France by an Islamist of the teacher Samuel Paty. While the media controlled by the government continue communicating nauseating false information, clearly oriented in an effort to modify public opinion… As appears below:
(1) Akit / Macron’s devious game against Muslims : he has French intelligence targeting Muslims.
In the inquest on the assassination of a teacher in France, the number of persons in custody has risen to 9. Macron, the President of France is playing bloody theatrics in order to legitimize the “struggle against Islam”, following the attack which, according to allegations, was perpetrated by French intelligence, taking Islam and Muslims as their targets.
(2) Akit/ Discrimination among the students
We learn that during his lesson to primary grade pupils, the teacher showed caricatures presenting nauseating images of Prophet Mohammad which attracted reactions of parents of some of the students. It is said that the teacher demonstrated a discriminatory attitude, asking Muslim students to raise their hands and step forward; he had already been signaled to his superiors as a pedo-pornographer. The inquest is in the hands of the anti-terrorist prosecutor’s bureau. In the pursuit of this inquest, a video is being examined in which one of the parents qualifies the actions of the teacher as inappropriate and denounces him to his superiors. Moreover, President Macron while visiting the location of the event, qualified it as “an Islamist terrorist attack”.
(3) The same filthy comments cut and pasted on another “newspaper” among many others…
One cannot fail noticing how this press orchestrates the filth served up as information by the “Brothers”.
Who holds the censorship leash?
Thus, we find ourselves faced with a way of functioning that maintains the illusion of a State with it laws, its justice, its counterpowers. When looked at more closely, this democratic screen hides the reality of an oligarchical power acting as a cartel.
In military language “he who holds the heights holds the low grounds”. Thus, censorship remains legitimized by a justice under orders, and orchestrated directly by a totalitarian power launching fatwas when necessary, using as a resonance chamber a parliament reduced to the role of a rubber-stamp where Parties play at opposing one another in order to maintain the democratic illusion. What is already the case in a number of so-called parliamentary democracies is pushed here beyond the point of caricature. Thus the “press” submitted to censorship could also appear as a still-existing counterpower, when in fact it has been reduced to self-censorship, while the reigning oligarchy displays the colossal means of its propaganda.
There is nothing new in writing that censorship is the rule in Turkey. Even less in having to constantly reiterate that “journalism is not a crime”, when faced by waves of arrests or intimidations. But it struck us as necessary to pick apart a small part of the perverse functioning of this censorship.
Finally, concerning social networks, a reminder that even though the GAFA are not the philanthropists of democracy, access to them must be preserved where such access is still free, in order to maintain the role of counterpowers and whistleblowers. They are nothing but the digital tools needed to preserve an agora against censorship in an ocean of “communication”. But one need only take note of how, everywhere, existing totalitarianisms, like those currently in gestation, do everything to control these networks to understand we must refuse the leash and the extended collar.
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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