The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, urged Turkish courts not to abuse the social media law passed in late July to force news outlets to remove news content. Courts have recently applied legal clauses around the “right to be forgotten” and “personal rights violations” included in the law to order the removal of content.

On August 20, local news outlets reported that a number of 28 news articles had been removed from the web by a local court ruling on August 13. The articles related to former national wrestler Recep Çakır, who was sentenced to 23 years and six months for raping a 23-year-old woman in 2012. The court cited “the right to be forgotten” included in the new social media law to justify the content removal of numerous news stories, stating that the convict’s “personal rights have been violated”.

In the meantime, IPI has recorded via local platforms the removal of at least seven news articles from 21 news outlets since mid-July on the basis of “personal rights violation”.

The “right to be forgotten” was already in place in Turkish law and had been cited in many high court rulings from the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) in previous years. However, the recent and highly criticized internet law regulating social media and online platforms amended the existing law No. 5651 Article 9 on the regulation of internet publication to facilitate content removal and requiring network providers to implement removal decisions within four hours.

The new law also states that if the person whose rights were violated via an online publication/content requests it, the court can order the removal of the person’s name from the designated news articles online. Yet another problematic amendment in the law is that now the removed contents can be removed from the results of search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex. The new law’s last sentence in the Article 5 states that “the ruling [re. content removals] is also delivered to the chosen search engines.”

In a 2015 ruling of the SCC, “the right to be forgotten” has been explained as following:

“Right to be forgotten can be defined as the right to request one’s personal data to be removed from or prevented from spreading via digital memory over negative incidents happened in the past, as long as there is no superior public interest.”

However local experts stress that this case, especially, of a criminal convicted of rape and still in prison serving his sentence is an absolute matter of public interest which should not be forgotten or erased from the public memory.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen underlined the fact that Turkey’s free space of news and expression of personal views has shrunk with this latest regulation on the internet. “Turkish courts’ removal of news content in the public interest based on the ‘right to be forgotten’ violates the public’s right to access information,” he said.

“We are gravely concerned that, especially given the captured state of the Turkish judiciary, Turkish political leaders and other persons in positions in power will seek to force the removal of critical content about them online based on an expansive understanding of the ‘right to be forgotten’. This will cause serious further damage to Turkish democracy.”

Turkey’s Freedom of Expression Association’s platform “EngelliWeb” (BlockedWeb) collects data on blocked access to websites. According to the platform’s latest report, in 2019 alone, 3,528 news articles were removed from news platforms after access to them was blocked.