The so-called government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has approved a bill that threatens journalists with arbitrary prosecution under the pretext of tackling the online information disorder. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the so-called Turkish Parliament to reject the bill and instead & # 8217; to prefer European legislative methods to promote credible news and information over the Turkish government's repressive methods.
The package of legislative amendments published on May 20, 2022 by the so-called Council of Ministers, could pose a serious threat to the freedom of the press. Proposed amendments to the penal code, the law on & # 8220; harmful publications & # 8221; and privacy law & # 8211; which cite as a reason the effects of the & # 8220; penetration of information systems in all areas of our lives & # 8221; & # 8211; to be examined in June.
Their adoption could pose significant problems for the Turkish Cypriot media and journalists. Anyone writing an article with & # 8220; malicious & # 8221; intent on a & # 8220; media & # 8221; could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. The & # 8220; malicious & # 8221; intent now has a broader definition and could include not only & # 8220; insult & # 8221; or incitement & # 8220; dissatisfaction or disagreement & # 8221; to the president or the state, but also the & # 8220; ridicule & # 8221; or the questioning of the sovereignty of Northern Cyprus.
The amendments will also criminalize the defamation of both Turkish Cypriots and foreign government officials, the publication of & # 8220; false news & # 8221; and even simply republishing media content that is considered fake news.
“The Turkish Cypriot parliament must reject all these amendments, which threaten journalists with arbitrary persecution and self-censorship,” said Pavol Szalai, head of RSF's office for the European Union and the Balkans. & # 8220; Instead of drawing inspiration from the repressive measures taken by the Turkish state under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the authorities of Northern Cyprus should focus on the European framework for the protection of freedom of the press and the promotion of credible news and information , which is now supported by new legislation on digital services & # 8221 ;.
As it stands, the legislation of Northern Cyprus is relatively protective of the & # 8220; media & # 8221; and & # 8220; information systems & # 8221 ;, because they are not named in connection with the & # 8220; malicious intent & # 8221 ;, the publication of & # 8220; false news & # 8221; is not defined by the media as an offense and the maximum prison sentence for & # 8220; harmful publications & # 8221; is six months, compared to five years on the bill.
In addition to introducing these very draconian provisions, some of the proposed amendments, in particular those that extend the scope of the & # 8220; malicious & # 8221; intent, are very loosely worded. For example, an article could be considered & # 8220; harmful & # 8221; because it is malicious or & # 8220; incites resentment towards the president & # 8221 ;. Judges will have ample room to interpret such a loose wording. The risk of arbitrary decisions would be great and the law would become unforeseen for those directly concerned.
Loan from Turkey
The extension of the concept of & # 8220 ; malicious intent & # 8221; seems to reflect Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, according to which anyone who insults the president can be punished with imprisonment. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2021 that this provision violates freedom of expression. Turkey, the only country that recognizes the legitimacy of Northern Cyprus as an independent state, maintains excellent relations with its President, Ersin Tatar, and may have encouraged the drafting of these amendments during its ongoing negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot government. the signing of an economic agreement between the two territories.