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Turkey passes new amendment to further stifle internet freedom

Turkey, host of the UN-sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul, has a terrible record of censoring free speech online. The country has recently expanded its powers to monitor and censor all activity online without the participation of independent oversight. The IGF is an annual meeting summoned by the UN secretary general to bring governments, societies and concerned parties together to converse on public policy with regards to the internet.

Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged delegations at the IGF to acknowledge and respond to Turkey's increasingly authoritarian handling of internet freedom.

"Turkey's ruling party has responded to criticism of its policies by escalating internet censorship and prosecuting social media users," said Wong.

Human Rights Watch also commented that Turkey should stop blocking sites and persecuting social media users. Under the harsh new internet law 5651, Turkish authorities have blocked tens of thousands of websites and prosecuted social media users. Recently amendments to the law were approved which expand the censorship to allow immediate blocking of sites deemed to violate private life. The sites can be blocked within hours of the allegations being made without a court order.

Access to Twitter and YouTube was blocked preceding March 30 municipal elections, following leaked wiretaps of conversations between top officials surfacing on social media. The international community, UN, and EU all voiced their criticism but Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed their concerns. President Erdogan promised to "eradicate Twitter" despite the international community's protests.

"The Internet forum's host this year seems determined to shut down criticism of government policy online," added Wong. 

New law undermines free speech
Essentially, the new law undermines the right to privacy. Turkish authorities now have unlimited control over personal information. Furthermore, the law may be used to punish journalists who report on abuses by the agency and intelligence agents would have immunity from persecution. The law gives the agency unlimited power to detain, collect information and access private data. The right to privacy offline is likewise in jeopardy. The Human Rights Watch commented that the additional surveillance powers can lead to more persecution and diminish free speech as a whole.

Recently, 29 people were prosecuted for "inciting violence" on Twitter during 2013 demonstrations in Taksim square. Evidence suggests their tweets only offered information about the protests, or in some cases, called for emergency and medical support for protestors. 

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