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Press briefing note on Turkey

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell

Location: Geneva

Date: 28 July 2020

We are concerned by moves by the authorities in Turkey to introduce a new social media bill that would give the State powerful tools for asserting even more control over the media landscape.

The law, if adopted, would further undermine the right of people in Turkey to freedom of expression, to obtain information and to participate in public and political life. As well, it would further weaken platforms that are essential for independent journalism.

The independent media is already under serious threat in Turkey. These concerns have been exacerbated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Interior, as of May 2020, at least 510 people have been detained for allegedly “baseless” and “provocative” social media posts about the pandemic and the State’s response to it.

Under the draft bill, which reportedly will be discussed in parliament soon, social media companies would be required to appoint a representative within Turkey. If the companies fail to comply, they would face steep fines and the possibility of having their bandwidth slashed to the point that people in Turkey will not have any meaningful access to their site. The wholesale blocking of websites is not compatible with the right to freedom of expression. The same is true for measures that render websites effectively inaccessible, such as deliberate limitations to available bandwidth.

The law would also require that companies store all data of their Turkish customers within Turkey, undermining people’s right to communicate anonymously. The law would also introduce extremely short deadlines for responding to content take-down requests by individuals and the courts. This in combination with the threat of legal liability and fines would provide strong incentives for over-compliance with take-down requests. We are also concerned about expanding the State’s power to demand removal of reporting from news websites.

We would like to recall that all limitations on the right to freedom of expression have to be in line with the requirements of article 19(3) of the ICCPR. Rather than seeking to increase powers of information control, governments should take all necessary measures to promote plurality of the media. Legal and regulatory frameworks for such essential fora of expression as social media platforms should only be adopted based on thorough deliberations and broad public debate.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Jeremy Laurence - + 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org or Liz Throssell - + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.org

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