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Turkey faces heavier censorship with new Internet law

In Turkey, books, newspapers and other media continue to face heavy censorship. Political satire, sex and controversial history are frequently banned, and the offending artists and writers can face fines, job loss and even imprisonment.

ISTANBUL: The European Union (EU) has expressed "serious concerns" over Turkey's new Internet law, which approves the blocking of web pages within hours without a prior court order.

The government said the new law is aimed at protecting individual privacy.

But critics said that with freedom of speech already restricted through bans, arrests of journalists and alleged pressure by politicians, Turkey is becoming more conservative.

Censorship in Turkey has a long history.

The Ottoman king, Sultan Abdül Hamid, apparently forbid the word nose from being printed, because he hated his large nose.

In modern-day Turkey, books, newspapers and other media continue to face heavy censorship.

Political satire, sex and controversial history are frequently banned, and the offending artists and writers can face fines, job loss and even imprisonment.

Cartoonist Halil Inescu has had 250 pieces of work censored, and the magazine he works for has even been bombed.

After completing one particularly controversial political cartoon, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison and banned from drawing political cartoons for three years.

“I never self-censored because of the legal authorities -- I count that as a shameful thing. I’m really against self-censorship and censorship. I never accept it,” said Halil Inescu.

Artists are not the only ones refusing to accept the status quo.

Journalist Yavuz Baydar was fired from his job as an independent ombudsman for the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah, after he criticised the lack of coverage of the Gezi protests.

“Censorship has always been a habit, a pattern in Turkish media, mainly because of a culture of intolerance, but also because of the authorities’ way of trying to control public opinion and the flow of opinion,” said Yavuz Baydar.

The Turkish Publishers Association has suffered greatly for the right to voice opinion and talk freely about difficult issues.

The books it produces are often banned the day they are published.

But there are small victories.

Ragip Zarakolu, Turkish Publishers Association chairman, said: “My wife, as an editor, was sentenced to two years in prison because she published a book about the Armenian Genocide, but we went on to publish books about the genocide, and now it’s possible in Turkey to publish books on it.”

Today, there are fewer court cases concerning censorship, but this is mostly because artists are censoring themselves.

While some progress has been made, the use of censorship is still commonplace. Taboos remain on criticising the military and government, as well as religion and sex.

Meanwhile, those that value pluralism, debate and democracy will continue to fight for self-expression and freedom of speech. 

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