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Turkey has passed a new law on ‘disinformation’ that could see journalists and social media users jailed for up to three years.

The new legislation was proposed by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to protect the country from ‘rising digital fascism and fake news’, and comes as Turkey prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections next June.

It prohibits people from spreading ‘false information about the internal and external security, public order and general wellbeing of the country in order to create anxiety, fear or panic among the public’.

Where social media accounts are anonymous, the sentence can be increased by up to 50 per cent.

And the new law also requires messaging apps to hand over user information to the authorities when requested, while platforms such as Google or Facebook must reveal their algorithms.

Last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe urged the Turkish authorities not to enact the legislation, and the move has, unsurprisingly, also been condemned by human rights groups.

“Coming on the heels of the Government’s increased control of the media over the past few years, these new measures enable them to further censor and silence critical voices ahead of Turkey’s upcoming elections and beyond, under the guise of fighting disinformation,” says Guney Yildiz, regional researcher at Amnesty International.

“In fact, rather than ensuring information safety, the law’s vaguely defined provisions further facilitate the prosecution of those who allegedly publicly disseminate ‘false information’ and could see people facing jail terms of up to three years merely for a retweet.”

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It has also received strong criticism locally, with journalists reported to have gathered outside Turkey’s parliament building in Ankara, holding placards that read ‘No to the law of censorship’ and ‘Free press is a condition for democracy’.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) has condemned the law, saying it will boost not only censorship, but also self-censorship.

“The bill cites concepts such as ‘disinformation’, ‘fake news’, ‘baseless information’ and ‘distorted information’, without providing legal definitions. It also refers to vague notions like ‘security’, ‘public order’ and ‘public peace’, which have been repeatedly used against journalists in legal harassment cases, providing the court yet another crime for trial,” it says in a statement.

“Such an approach leaves the laws open to gross abuse by a judicial system that is already suffering from political capture and a loss of independence. We reject this initiative.”

Turkey has been ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the latest media freedom index from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), with most newspapers and television channels having come under government control after a failed coup in 2016.

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