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Prominent Turkish literary figures slam controversial media law in joint statement

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More than 200 members of the Turkish literary world have released a joint statement to raise their voices against a recently approved law regulating the media that makes “spreading false information” a criminal offense, saying, “We will not be silenced,” the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Wednesday.

“We reject the censorship law that will plunge the country into deep darkness. [We will defend] the truth of the people and the world against the lies of the tyrants!” 211 literary figures said in the statement released on Wednesday.

Among the signatories of the statement were Nobel prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, writer and poet Murathan Mungan, writer and singer Zülfü Livaneli, author and poet Ahmet Ümit, poet Birhan Keskin, Sema Kaygusuz, a novelist, playwright, essayist and short-story writer, and Buket Uzuner, the author of many novels, short stories and travelogues.

Approved by the Turkish parliament on Oct. 13, the new law consists of 40 articles that amend several laws, including the Internet Law, the Press Law and the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

It makes “spreading false information” a criminal offense punishable by between one and three years in prison. If a person conceals his or her identity while spreading false information, those penalties can be increased by half, the law says, failing to specify what constitutes “false information.”

The law, which was proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and comes only eight months before a general election for which Erdoğan is trailing in the polls, was approved by parliament with the votes of the ruling AKP and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), although it was vehemently opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups.

The new law, which restricts freedom of expression according to critics, was published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday following Erdoğan’s approval.

The law also introduces much stricter government control over online news sites, equipping the government-controlled Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK), which is responsible for regulating the internet in Turkey, with broad powers to force social media companies to delete online content and hand over user data or to be subject to a reduction of their bandwidth – known as “internet throttling” – if they fail to comply.

The AKP government has been relentless in its crackdown on critical media outlets, particularly after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

As an overwhelming majority of the country’s mainstream media has come under government control over the last decade, Turks have taken to social media and smaller online news outlets for critical voices and independent news.

Turks are already heavily policed on social media, and many have been charged with insulting President Erdoğan or his ministers, or criticism related to foreign military incursions and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey was classified as “not free” by Freedom House in its “Freedom in the World 2022” index.

More than 90 percent of Turkey’s media networks “depend on public tenders and are owned by large businesses with close personal ties to President Erdoğan,” according to a Freedom House report released in February.

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