02/11/2014 04:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2014

Turkey Is Going Back to the Old Days

My childhood memories are filled with anxiety -- I remember watching my mother's panic when my two older brothers were late coming back from school in the years before the 1980 coup.

I wasn't the only one. My generation grew up with a fear of expressing any political opinion because we were raised listening to our elders' sad, sorrowful stories.

Last May, all these memories came back to me when I was watching thousands of youth demonstrating against the government at Gezi Park. Then, in the summer, I was shaken while watching youths protest at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused students of terrorizing the campus and even the academics for supporting the students' right to protest. I had no doubt there would be something strong coming after that!

Then, on Jan. 29, the Official Gazette announced that the Higher Education Board (YÖK) -- which was established after the 1980 military coup to supervise universities, from class curriculum to anything else about students -- updated its regulations for all university personnel. According to the new law, without official permission, academics are not allowed to make any statements or provide any information to the media "except for scientific discussions and declarations."

Mehmet Göktürk, an associate professor at the Gebze Institute of Technology, says that the legislative process in Turkey reminds him of the famous programming mistake called the "spaghetti code" in computer science. "It is a 'bug-driven' process and full of individual exceptions that, at the end, renders the whole application slow, useless and more buggy and worsens performance."

Hey says: "Our government should not attack individual problems by passing a single law, which is actually a series of reactions. Such poor solutions are due to a poor understanding of problems. Rather than reactively passing legislation resulting in mistake after mistake, they should have a model in mind that encapsulates all possibilities in all dimensions, as well as possibilities to expand as a whole."

I am sorry to say that, technically, Mr. Göktürk, right now, can be incriminated by YÖK because he is discussing a nonscientific issue without official permission.

Another tragic thing happened last week. A controversial law on Internet regulation was passed in Parliament with a majority of votes. With the new changes, the transportation, maritime affairs and communications minister will be able to block websites without a court order. Also, the head of the Turkish Internet regulatory authority, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB), will be authorized to block websites on its own initiative.

There is something strange: Last week, TİB sent out an order to some Internet sites to take down the content of and news stories about a parliamentary question by Umut Oran, a prominent deputy of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Oran's parliamentary question was about a corruption scandal that has led to a series of arrests since Dec. 17, 2013.
When Oran declared that he would go to court to challenge this administrative action, the new transportation minister, Lütfi Elvan, immediately called Oran to apologize. The head of the Information Technologies and Communication Authority (BTK) said there was no court decision to remove stories about the incident from the Web and that they had sent out the order "by mistake." And now, after a week, we are witnessing this new Internet law. Go figure.

It seems that Turkey is confidently on its way to becoming a member of the "freedom league" --- with such players as China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea, where freedom of speech and human rights are secondary issues. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is very concerned about the recent amendments to Turkey's Internet laws. Geoffrey King, the CPJ's Internet advocacy coordinator, told me:

It [the current law] has already been used to stifle journalism.

The [changes] represent a dangerous shift in the balance of power between the Turkish government and those who would report truthful information on matter of public concern... The Turkish government should not treat them as criminals.

We can easily apply his words to academics, too.

The Turkish government seems to be in panic mode, re-actively passing legislation resulting in one mistake after another. While watching this, I'm disturbed, concerned and furious, and all my childhood memories are coming back. My only desire is to protect our youth from being afraid of having any political opinions, but under this pressure I'm not sure that's possible!

For more Arzu Kaya-Uranli click