Turkey Passes Censorship Laws ahead of 2023 Election


Istanbul, Turkey captured by Meg Jerrard

Danni Chacon, Senior Editor

Censorship, the suppression of considerably ‘objectionable’ content, has taken significant precedence in Turkey after an attempted 2016 coup aimed to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration led to nationwide social media blockages. Following other autocratic regimes’ prior administrative practices in Turkey, this mandate is a coercive weapon utilized to enforce control over the public’s relayed information. 

This month, a set of censorship legislation sparked controversy amongst the public. The proposed legislation consists of 40 articles, most notably the Internet Law, the Press Law, and the Turkish Penal Code. The timing of this legislation also presents a matter of interest, given the proximity to Turkey’s 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. Electoral censorship minimizes citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and the free flow of information, a commonality beyond Turkey but across many authoritarian forms of government. In light of a competitive and tight election happening between June 18, 2023, to July 2, 2023, the Turkish government is censoring information as a pervasive method, giving them a better chance of winning the election by preventing the opposition from gaining more votes. 

For instance, Turkey’s latest legal amendments prohibit citizens from voting or expressing their opinions over any opposing candidate that isn’t Erdogan. This doesn’t come as a surprise given that lawmakers from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) and its nationalist allies MHP voted as a majority to approve the bill. The Turkish government might expand what qualifies as “misinformation” as we come closer to the election. Moreover, censorship of the public’s ability to voice their opinions about the regime itself post-election. 

The new Criminal Disinformation offense also imposes strict forms of punishment for individuals who fail to abide by the newest legislation. Imprisonment ranges from four to five years and can go even longer. Although applicable to all citizens, these laws are particularly consequential to journalists. For example, the Press Law intensifies press card requirements and requires online sites, specifically news outlets, to have contact information easily accessible to the public. 

Some of the legislation controls the media by effectively banning Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, unless they comply with the Turkish government censorship regulations. It formalizes these companies’ ability to have a presence in Turkey. They are also expected to hand over data to prosecutors and courts entirely at the government’s request. As of now, they are not expected to comply. However, some believe they are being put in place to stabilize the state and monitor possible terrorist activities. The newest law also imposes sanctions on tech companies in moments where compliance isn’t obeyed. 

Turkey’s most recent legislation is important domestically and internationally. Domestically, the laws have the power to transform what entails basic human rights. Internationally, they can lead to contagious authoritarianism, and encourage other neighboring countries.