'Goodbye, dear Internet'

“Dear Internet,” wrote Ahmet Sabancı, one of the hundreds of thousands of bloggers in Turkey, where the usage of social media is in the top league in the world.

“We the people of Turkey have had a great time with you. You taught us so many things which we couldn’t learn from anywhere else. We had lots of great memories with you. You were always there whenever we needed you. But we have to say goodbye. Parliament has passed a bill which is going to kill you. Maybe it won’t kill you directly but you’ll be crippled and we can’t do everything we want together…”

Sabancı’s lament in his blog Medium is not an exaggeration. In what will go down in history as another dark moment in Turkey’s flip-flopping journey between suppression and freedom, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) majority in Parliament, which kills the country’s hopes of majoritarian rule, passed the Internet bill, adding to the massive problems that the bill’s earlier form had been causing.

In terms of free speech, we are at the gates of the hall of horrors. If President Abdullah Gül does not veto the bill — given his worrisome political timidity so far, there are signals that he may not — Turkey’s extremely vital domain of information, data, debate and free ideas will either be blocked or put to sleep by force.

What should we expect? Sabancı’s description, step by step, should help clarify things for readers:

We won’t be able to talk about everything. The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will have to the power to censor everything it doesn’t like (or what it is told to block). That means the government can censor anything it wants. It doesn’t need a court decision.

Talking about “harmful” content with you [the Internet] will be counted as a crime. If we talk about something “harmful” or host these “harmful” content, I’ll be a criminal.

Internet Service Providers are going to log everything we do together. They will keep these logs for years and the government can check these logs whenever it wants.

They’ll use URL-based censorship on you. That means, if my essays on Medium count as “harmful,” other people can view Medium but they’ll never be able to read my essays on Medium. And most people won’t be able to notice this.

They’ll use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). That means they will see what we’re doing, whenever they want. We won’t be able to do anything in secret.

The passing of the bill came at a time when social media and a number of independent websites were busy publishing news, data and related material — many of which are of public interest since they are mainly about the corruption allegations — about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s closest circle, relatives and the government.

At Parliament’s General Assembly, hours before the vote on the Internet bill, opposition deputies made public the record of a telephone conversation between the prime minister and a high-level editor with Haberturk TV channel, during the days of Gezi protests. In that conversation, Erdoğan asks a news ticker on an opposition leader to be removed from the screen. “Right away, sir,” is the answer.

Every day, we are faced with developments confirming the entry of massive censorship and intimidation. Selçuk Gültaşlı, Today’s Zaman’s Brussels correspondent, yesterday wrote about how his hosts of a conference were “warned” by AKP officials on his attendance. Elsewhere, columnists in the pro-government media are now openly threatening dissenting pundits with “punishment” if they go on expressing criticism against “big brother.”

If anything, the passing of the Internet bill and the ethos behind it is a clear enough sign of Turkey being in a profound crisis. Yesterday, 150 academics, many of whom are seen as “heavyweights” in their branches, issued a manifesto, underlining just that. The declaration warns that a witch hunt is under way, that the current situation resembles an “emergency rule” in which the political executive suspends the superiority of the law and “devours” the other two powers — legislative and the judiciary.