As the Turkish Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of the ‘disinformation offence’ on 8 November, ARTICLE 19 Europe and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partner organisations reiterate their call for the annulment of Article 217/A of the Turkish Penal Code and related legal amendments passed in October 2022 that undermine international standards on the right to freedom of expression and of the press.
Since its introduction a year ago, the offence of ‘publicly disseminating misleading information’ under Article 217/A, known as the ‘disinformation offence’, has been weaponised to silence dissent. The broad and vague language of Article 217/A has resulted in at least 33 journalists confronting legal consequences, indicating the article’s potential to stifle legitimate dialogue and critical thought under the guise of curbing ‘false information’.
Any restrictions to the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution, must be prescribed by law, must pursue a legitimate aim, be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and necessary in a democratic society. The Venice Commission’s urgent opinion on the offence highlighted that the ambiguous manner with which Art. 217/A is worded jeopardises the legality criterion and that it is doubtful the offence is proportionate or necessary in a democratic society considering the chilling effect it would create, making the law incompatible with international standards on freedom of expression.
The review by the Constitutional Court presents a critical opportunity for Turkey to reestablish adherence to the principles of international human rights law and democratic values. We call upon the Turkish Constitutional Court to acknowledge the incompatibility of Article 217/A with international human rights conventions and to annul this and other restrictive amendments from October 2022.
In solidarity with those who champion free expression and media freedom in Turkey, we will be closely monitoring the Turkish Constitutional Court’s forthcoming hearing today, on 8 November, on the annulment of the ‘publicly disseminating misleading information’ offence.
Background on the October 2022 amendments
In October 2022, the Turkish parliament passed a series of legislative amendments to several laws, including the Turkish Penal Code, the Internet Law and the Press Law. This new ‘censorship’ or ‘disinformation law’ criminalised ‘spreading false information,’ while additional provisions have imposed heavy obligations on social media platforms and over-the-top service providers.
Before the October 2022 amendments, Turkish legislation was already placing tight constraints on online platforms, mandating swift compliance with content takedown requests under the threat of substantial penalties. Since the October 2022 changes, social media platforms (SMPs) risk advertising bans, hefty fines that could be as high as 3 percent of their global income, and significant reductions in their bandwidth, or ‘throttling’, if they do not follow government orders. Not adhering to even a single demand for content removal or user information can lead to up to 90% throttling of their services and a six-month ban on advertisements.
For more information about the October 2022 amendments, please visit:
ARTICLE 19 Europe
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)