02 February 2010, Tuesday
ABDULLAH BOZKURT STRASBOURG
A senior official at the world’s largest intergovernmental organization focusing on media freedoms has lambasted Turkey for imposing restrictions on Internet sites and criticized media accreditation methods to ban reporters from attending press conferences.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) media representative Miklos Haraszti told Today’s Zaman in Strasbourg last week that Turkey needs to reform or abolish Law 5651, commonly known as the Internet Law, which restricts access to popular Web sites including video-sharing Web site YouTube. He also warned that changes made to notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which makes it a crime to attack the Turkish nation in the media, are inadequate and that the government simply needs to get rid of that law.
‘It puts Turkey in bad company with countries like Iran and China, though Turkey is basically a free country,’ Haraszti said, stressing that Turkey should either reform or abolish the Internet Law in its current form. He warned that the practice is simply not in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards on freedom of expression. ‘The government does have tools to go after illegitimate sites and punish those who violate laws. But do not block whole access to Web sites. It is not solving problems,’ he remarked.
The OSCE has recently issued a report on restrictions on the Internet in Turkey and criticizes current practices. ‘At present, 3,700 Internet sites are blocked in Turkey, including YouTube, GeoCities and Google sites. Even as some of the content that is deemed ‘bad,’ such as child pornography, must be sanctioned, the law is unfit to achieve this. Instead, by blocking access to entire Web sites in Turkey, it paralyzes access to numerous modern file-sharing or social networks,’ Haraszti stated, when announcing the report.
With respect to the amended Article 301, Haraszti emphasized that the government had not done enough in reforming the law. ‘Basically it was not a reform. The decision making was moved from the judiciary to the political level. That benefitted journalists because much less or no cases were allowed to proceed,’ he said. According to the amended law, any case brought against writers and media professionals requires the approval of the justice minister.
Article 301 criminalizes insulting ‘the Turkish nation.’ Before the current government passed an amendment, the crime of ‘insulting Turkishness’ was far more serious and broadly prosecuted, which led to the conviction of numerous intellectuals for criticizing the nation and the state. The government’s recent changes to the TCK now require the justice minister’s approval to take someone to court over Article 301 violations, thus eliminating prosecutorial discretion.
The OSCE media representative argued that this is not a solution. ‘The law is still there. The government cannot dictate solutions in every law. For now, the government has undertaken the political responsibility, and they are holding the [line] tight. But it cannot go on forever like this,’ he underlined, urging the complete abolishment of the notorious article.
Haraszti further noted concern over the usage of media accreditation as a censorship tool against media outlets. ‘Obviously we have concerns over these matters and noted it in our reports,’ he said. The Zaman Media Group, which also publishes Today’s Zaman, has not been allowed to cover the press briefings by the chief of General Staff because the group was not extended accreditation by the military.