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Turkey set to amend contentious Internet law

AFP

A protester holds a placard reading,

A protester holds a placard reading, "Everywhere blackout, everywhere filter", during a protest against Turkish government's newly proposed restrictions on the use of Internet, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul, on February 8, 2014A protester holds a placard reading, "Everywhere blackout, everywhere filter", during a protest against Turkish government's newly proposed restrictions on the use of Internet, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul, on February 8, 2014

Turkey's government is planning to amend a contentious bill tightening controls over the Internet in an apparent backtrack in the face of widespread opposition.

Transport Minister Lutfi Elvan signalled changes to the legislation at a meeting with political parties in parliament on Tuesday, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

An opposition lawmaker confirmed the planned amendments to aspects of the bill concerning some powers of Turkey's telecommunications authority.

"The steps are positive but not enough," Akif Hamzacebi of the Republican People's Party (CHP) was quoted as saying by NTV television.

Under the bill, the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB) can demand that Internet providers block pages deemed insulting or considered an invasion of privacy.

But the government is now proposing that the TIB will have to inform a judge about any decision to block a web page.

The judge would then have to issue a ruling within 48 hours or the TIB move would be deemed invalid, Hurriyet said.

The Internet bill has sparked outrage both at home and abroad and fuelled concerns over the state of democracy in the EU-hopeful country under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The legislation came on top of moves to curb the judiciary and a government purge of police and prosecutors in the face of corruption probe that has targeted close Erdogan allies.

The Internet bill could now either be vetoed by President Abdullah Gul and sent back to parliament to include the planned amendments, or it could be approved by the president and the amended clauses could be inserted in a separate batch of laws.

Observers say the second option appears more likely because Gul has indicated that he will sign into law both the Internet and judiciary measures.

Gul said that while he intended to raise concerns over "problematic clauses" in both bills, it was not his place to challenge the legislation.

- 'News will self-destruct' -

"As president, I cannot put myself into the position of the constitutional court," Hurriyet quoted him as saying, referring to opposition plans to challenge the legislation in Turkey's highest court.

Leading daily Radikal launched an online campaign to protest at the Internet curbs, erasing news stories, pictures and columns from its website once every four hours.

The campaign refers to the timeframe initially proposed for the TIB to be able to block a webpage under emergency measures.

"We will have a new motto like in the Mission Impossible movie," Radikal editor-in-chief Eyup Can wrote in his column, referring to the film's catchphrase "This message will self destruct in five seconds".

"This news story will self destruct by TIB in four hours," he said.

Erdogan has vehemently denied accusations of online censorship, and said Tuesday the proposed Internet curbs were aimed at countering "blackmail" and "threats".

"The Internet will not be censored, freedoms will not limited," Erdogan told his lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament.

He said the number of Internet subscribers in predominantly Muslim Turkey had swelled to 34 million from 20,000 since the AKP came to power in 2002.

Defenders of the law say the new restrictions protect individual rights while critics argue they amount to nothing more than a fresh assault on freedom of expression and an attempt to stifle dissent.

Date created : 2014-02-18