The UN human rights office (OHCHR) expressed growing concern on Friday over the adoption by Turkiye’s Parliament of a package of amendments to various laws “that risk curtailing freedom of expression” in the country.

One of the amendments is a revision of the criminal code that establishes sentences of up to three years in prison for “publicly disseminating false information” on digital plaftorms.

“Under international human rights law, freedom of expression is not limited to ‘truthful’ information, but applies to ‘information and ideas of all kinds’, both online and offline. Restrictions to freedom of expression shall only be envisaged on legitimate and necessary grounds”, Marta Hurtado, the UN Rights Office spokesperson warned in a statement.

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Room for abuse

Ms. Hurtado underscored that the amendments further leave significant room for “arbitrary, subjective interpretation and abuse”.

“In an already very restrictive context, they risk further limiting people’s rights to seek, receive and impart information as guaranteed by article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Türkiye is party”, she highlighted, adding that the amendments also risk opening new avenues for repression of journalists, human rights defenders and incentivising self-censorship.

Freedom of expression at risk

The Office of incoming High Comissioner Volker Türk also regreted that the laws were drafted and adopted without meaningful consultation with civil society and media representantives, and reminded Türkiye that legal and regulatory frameworks of such wide potential scope and impact should only be adopted after broad public debate.

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“Freedom of expression and access to information are necesssary for people’s effective participation in public and political life and essential in any democracy. We call on Türkiye to ensure full respect for freedom of expression guaranteed under international law”, Ms. Hurtado urged.