UPDATE (February 8, 2013): By a vote of 319 to 231, Turkish parliament has adopted the new Internet bill which will tighten access to online information in Turkey and allow the government to track and store user information. PEN strongly urges President Abdullah Gül to reject and refuse to sign into law this bill, which marks a major regression in Turkey’s progress toward world leadership.


NEW YORK—PEN American Center urges the Turkish Parliament to reject a draconian Internet bill that would give the national government sweeping new powers to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to record user information and block online content without judicial approval. 

Amendments under debate in parliament to Turkish Law No. 5651, which governs all Internet content in the country, are the latest assault on freedom of expression in Turkey. The law was originally enacted in May 2007 to curb access to YouTube videos and online pornography, but the Turkish government regularly hides behind this law and others like it to filter or block content it disfavors, including advocacy for Kurdish rights. The independent press agency Bianet estimated that 110,000 websites were blocked in 2011 alone, while Google reported Turkish requests to remove content from the web rose nearly 1000% last year.

Proposed amendments to Law No. 5651 would provide for additional penalties on authors, content providers, and users of content it deems inappropriate with no effective means of redress.

“Things have gotten worse, especially in the past few years,” said Tarik Günersel, president of the Turkish PEN Center, a branch of the international writers’ group advocating for human rights and free expression. “Erdogan’s oppressive AK Party government still controls most of the mainstream media, and is now trying to degrade the already limited access to Internet and independent communication in Turkey.”

Eight members of Turkish PEN’s Board of Directors underwent criminal investigation last year after the organization publicly condemned the prosecution of acclaimed composer and pianist Fazil Say. Say is among 193 writers already in prison, on trial, or otherwise under threat in Turkey, and one of 33 at risk for his use of digital media. Convicted of “publicly denigrating the religious values of a section of the population” in his posts on Twitter, Say received a 10-month suspended sentence, meaning any misstep could land him in jail. His conviction related to tweets of a historic poem that the court found insulting to Islam.

“In order to fulfill its aspirations of being a world leader, Turkey must allow its citizens the right to share and access information freely both online and off,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “These new amendments are a move in the wrong direction that will further undermine freedom of expression in Turkey. We urge the Turkish Parliament to right its course and reject this restrictive and burdensome bill.”

Turkey has long been viewed as a role model for its Arab and Islamic neighbors striving for more representative government. Demonstrations in Gezi Park this summer, accompanied by a government crackdown on protestors and local press, have largely challenged that view. In December 2013, a corruption scandal involving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his family, and high-level cabinet members emerged through pictures and videos posted to social media, leading many to believe this newest assault on digital freedom aims to prevent further embarrassment.


In 2013, PEN launched a campaign for greater freedom of expression in Turkey. The campaign aims to raise awareness of current threats to writers, publishers, translators, and journalists; to promote literature from Turkey in translation and to engage in public discussion and debate with writers, artists, and intellectuals from Turkey. This week, English PEN launched a unique collection of writing from Turkey. Featured writers include Kaya Genç, Ciwanmerd Kulek, Mario Levi, Ayfer Tunç, and more. Some dispatches come from writers who have already seen their books published in English; some are appearing in English for the first time. Some have been translated; some were composed in English. Quite a few were written from the heat of the Gezi protests; others offer quiet reflections. All are open letters, inviting us to write back. Download your free copy of this e-book today.