Turkish President wants government to fix Internet bill this week

Photo: Turkish President wants government to fix Internet bill this week / Turkey

During a "Sunday coffee chat" with journalists in the Huber Palace, which has an impressive view of the Bosphorus, President Abdullah Gül frankly admitted that all efforts to impose bans on the Internet would bear no results, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

"Even the Americans gave it up," he said. "As far as I know, they tried a lot after the Snowden leaks."

He said he had invited journalists in order to explain why he had approved a controversial law imposing additional government control on the Internet last week. He thinks the New York Times editorial accusing him of joining Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan government's "assault on free speech" was "not written with bad intentions, but was unfair."

Gül said he had two options when the bill was sent for his approval after passing with ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) votes in Parliament, despite his earlier warnings that there were "a few problematic points" in the text.

"I could have chosen the easier and more popular way and vetoed it. But in this election atmosphere the government would most likely have passed it again in the same form, and I would then have had no constitutional choice but to sign it with no improvements. I chose the difficult path, hoping that I could make some improvements that could make it acceptable to me, and faced a lot of criticism," he said.

Taking the example of his predecessors "like Süleyman Demirel and Ahmet Necdet Sezer," Gül approved the law and asked the government to make the changes he suggested. If it does not do this, he has the right to apply to the Constitutional Court for the annulment of the whole law.

But Gül is well aware that these explanations will fall short in changing the public perception, both inside and outside Turkey, that he approved a bill limiting ("controlling" is the word Erdoğan prefers) Internet freedom. "It is clear that we [Turkey] are going through a time of negative perceptions. We have to correct this," he said.

That is why he is looking forward to a parliamentary vote led by the government that would fix the drawbacks that he sees in the law.

There are four main "corrections" that Gül seeks. The first one is taking back the right from the head of the Telecommunications Board (TİB) to demand the content of web communications, in addition to IP addresses. The second is the maintenance of the necessity of a court ruling in order to ban an Internet broadcast, instead of the decision simply being made by the head of the TİB. The third blocks the transfer of personal information. The fourth suggests the establishment of expertise courts; "communications courts" in this case.

"The corrections have already passed through the Planning and Budget Commissions in Parliament, which pleased me. With all due respect to Parliament's will, it is expected that it will be voted on Tuesday. So I hope that we leave this debate behind this week," Gül said.

The question is: What if Parliament doesn't pass the "corrections" that Gül seeks? Would he then go to the Constitutional Court to nix the whole package?

"I am pretty resolute [on those corrections]" Gül answered. "But at the end of the day, we have a government with a clear dominance in Parliament. I don't expect any problems."

President Gül is hopeful that these "corrections" would soothe down the debate on the bill and temper reactions inside and outside Turkey. But he also knows it may not be easy to correct the perception that the Erdoğan government decided to impose limitations on the Internet after the serial release of wiretappings revealing Erdoğan's alleged interventions in the media.

This is especially the case at a time when two more controversial bills are set to come to Gül's desk for approval before the March 30 local elections. One is about more political control over the appointment and inspection of judges and prosecutors, and the other is about additional powers being given to Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MİT).

Gül, by the way, thinks there were 15 violations of Constitution in the 12 articles of the judges and prosecutors (HSYK) draft, and hopes these were corrected by the government before they were voted on last week.

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