NATO member introduces jail terms for ‘disinformation’

Türkiye’s parliament has approved new legislation which introduces jail sentences for people spreading “disinformation,” despite pushback from opposition MPs and activists who say it limits free expression and does not clearly define what materials are to be considered as “false.”

Introduced by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party in May, the law targets journalists and social media users accused of disseminating misleading information about the country’s “domestic and foreign security” to “create fear and disturb public order.”

The law, which will also require social media companies to hand over details of users suspected of propagating misleading information, now goes to the president for final approval.

The legislation was staunchly opposed by media freedom activists and opposition MPs who say it is too vague and open to abuse.

Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, told the New York Times that the law will be used “in an arbitrary and discriminatory way” and that it “lacks adequate legal safeguards and provides wide discretion to the prosecutors and courts.”

The Venice Commission, which advises the Council of Europe, has also condemned the law, saying on Thursday that it would have a “chilling effect and increased self-censorship, not least in view of the upcoming elections in June 2023.”

The AK Party, however, has insisted that the law contains safeguards and that its purpose is not to stamp out legitimate free speech. Mahir Unal, a lawmaker from Erdogan’s party, said in May that they were working to ensure “freedom of expression, criticism and freedom of the press will not be limited.”

Turkey ranked 149th out of 180 countries this year on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media freedom index.

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