Turkey's Gül approves tighter control of Internet

Photo: Turkey's Gül approves tighter control of Internet / Turkey

Turkey's president announced his approval of the new law tightening control over the Internet, bolstering embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but deepening concerns about free speech and the rule of law, Today's Zaman reported.

Gül said on his Twitter account he gave his approval after the government announced it would push through parliament an amendment of the new legislation in response to the president's concerns regarding two articles in the law.

The bill, passed by parliament this month and was approved by President Abdullah Gül late Tuesday, are seen by Erdoğan's critics as an authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his government, a bid to stymie court cases and to stop leaks circulating online.

The new law on the judiciary will give the government more influence over the naming of judges and prosecutors, while the Internet bill will enable the authorities to block access to web pages within hours without a prior court order.

The moves by Turkey, which has been seeking membership of the European Union for decades, have raised concern in Brussels, which fears it is shifting further away from EU norms, and unnerved investors in a country whose stability over the past decade has been based on Erdoğan's firm rule.

Police fired teargas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Internet law in İstanbul this month, and parliamentarians debating the judicial reforms came to blows on Sunday, leaving one with a broken nose.

Erdoğan's opponents have called on Gül, who co-founded the ruling AK Party with him in 2001 but is generally seen as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister, to use his powers to veto the bills. Speaking to reporters on a trip to Hungary late on Monday, he gave little sign he would do so.

"As the president I cannot put myself in the position of the constitutional court. But in a very general way, I can make my objections concerning the points I see," he was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet and Habertürk newspapers.

Gül pointed out he had raised concerns about the AK Party's first draft of the judicial reform bill, which had since been amended, and that the opposition had already indicated it would in any case appeal to the constitutional court.

"That is our tradition. Presidents before me would say 'the constitutional court decides on the subject of laws in which there are arguments for and against'," he was quoted as saying.

Gül has also said there are "problems" with some elements of the Internet law, which the country's communications minister was quoted on Tuesday as saying may still be amended.

Political ambition

Gül has made little secret of his desire to return to mainstream politics and is seen as a future leader of the AKP, an ambition his critics say leaves him too wary of conflict with Erdoğan to act as an effective check on his power.

"Gül wants to serve as president for a second term and has the desire to chair the AKP after Erdoğan, so even if he does not fully agree, he is approving controversial reguations from the party," Turkish political analyst Atilla Yeşilada said in a report.

The battle for control of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior members of the judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdoğan and his critics.

Erdoğan blames Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, a former ally who helped cement AK Party support over the past decade, for unleashing the graft investigation, which he sees as an attempted "judicial coup" meant to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year. Gülen denies any such role.

Gül is seen as enjoying more support from Gülen's network of sympathizers, who view themselves as pro-democratic and reformist, then Erdoğan, whose views on issues from abortion to alcohol they see as unnecessary interference in private life.

In the eyes of Turkey's opposition, too weak in parliament to stall AKP bills, that opens the way for Erdoğan to impose an increasingly authoritarian rule.

"If the president approves the HSYK law, the judiciary will be bound completely to the government. The separation of powers will be completely shelved," said Devlet Bahçeli, head of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

"I fear that Prime Minister Erdoğan will sit at the top of the judiciary as the chief judge."

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