By Dasha Afanasieva
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – From a campaign to “unfollow” President Abdullah Gul on Twitter to an opposition appeal to Turkey’s highest court, Turks vented their anger on Wednesday at a new law tightening government control of the Internet.
Gul approved the legislation, which will let the authorities block web pages within hours and collect data such as users’ browsing histories, late on Tuesday, bolstering Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan but raising renewed concerns about free speech.
Erdogan’s critics say the law, along with a bill increasing government power over the judiciary, as an authoritarian response to a corruption inquiry shaking his government and as an effort to stop leaks about the case circulating online.
Rights groups and the opposition had urged Gul, seen as a more conciliatory figure than Erdogan, to veto the new law. His failure to do so prompted a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #unfollowabdullahgul, although he appeared to lose only a fraction of his four million followers as a result.
“Of course we’re angry. The picture is so obvious – they are trying to manipulate everything. But our anger makes no difference,” said Cinar, a 29-year-old cook sitting with a friend in a cafe near the Besiktas fish market in Istanbul.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party appealed to the constitutional court to overturn the law, saying it breached the constitution and aimed to cover up the corruption inquiry.
Social media and video sharing sites have been awash with alleged recordings of ministers, including Erdogan, and business allies, presented as proof of wrongdoing in the graft scandal. Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity.
The government says the law is aimed at protecting individual privacy not gagging its critics, will enable specific content rather than entire web sites to be blocked and will replace prison sentences with fines for violations.
It has cast the corruption scandal as a smear campaign designed to undermine it before elections this year and orchestrated by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whose followers say they number in the millions.
Turkey already has strict Internet laws under which thousands of websites have been blocked, from news portals viewed as close to Kurdish militants to gay dating sites.
Google Legal Director Susan Infantino said in a December report that the number of requests from Turkish authorities to remove content from the firm’s platforms had risen nearly tenfold in the first half of 2012.
In the six months to the end of June 2013, it was asked to delete more than 12,000 items, making Turkey the top country on its “request to remove content” list, the report said.
Erdogan’s reaction to the corruption probe, in particular government efforts to tighten control over the naming of judges and prosecutors and the Internet, has drawn sharp criticism from the EU, which Turkey has been seeking to join for decades.
In power for more than a decade, Erdogan’s AK Party has increased its share of the vote in each of the past three elections, ushered in unprecedented political stability and overseen some of the fastest economic growth in Europe.
But the government’s handling of fierce protests in mid-2013 and the fallout from the corruption scandal have heightened fears of some Turks about what they view as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian leadership.
“This frightens me even though I’m not doing anything criminal. I already hesitated to write anything critical of the government online,” said Emre, a 35-year-old engineer working on his laptop in a Besiktas cafe.
“This government is not democratic enough for such a law. If I trusted it more, I would not be so frightened.”
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alistair Lyon)
Trump fans smacked down for whining the president is being called a ‘racist’ in righteous rant
Addressing complaints from both White House officials and fans of Donald Trump that they are tired of hearing the president called a racist, "AM Joy" regular Tiffany Cross fired right back saying they better get used to it.
Following clips of White House adviser Stephen Miller attempting to explain the White House's policies on immigrants, the co-founder of The Beat DC stood up for labeling the president as a bogot.
"It's accurate, you have to call a thing a thing," she began. "I think that's part of the reason why we got here because in 2015, when he kicked off his campaign with a bunch of racist rhetoric, there was a hesitancy to call it out. And there was the first two years of his presidency when he introduced ridiculous white supremacist policies and would follow that up with additional racist rhetoric and we have an echo chamber of people repeating these things, so we have to call a thing a thing."
Before Trump eyed Greenland: Here’s what happened last time the US bought a large chunk of the Arctic
Editor’s note: Reports that President Donald Trump has urged aides to look into buying Greenland make us think of the last time the United States bought a major territory in the Arctic: the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Two years ago, we asked William L. Iggiagruk Hensley, a visiting professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, to write about that historic sale.
‘That is ridiculous’: Andrew Gillum obliterates Santorum for claiming guns aren’t ‘problem’ in mass shootings
CNN contributor Andrew Gillum called conservative pundit Rick Santorum "ridiculous" on Sunday for suggesting that guns are not the problem in mass shootings.
During a CNN discussion on gun control, Santorum criticized calls from Democratic candidates for the government to buy back assault-style weapons in addition to banning them.
"The truth is something has to give," Gillum said. "The stranglehold that the NRA seems to have over Congress, over Washington, D.C., in my opinion, is insane. How can we put the priorities of one interest group above the safety, the security of the American people?"