03/08/2014 02:35 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2014

Turkish President Gül: There Is No Stepping Back From Freedoms

Dan Kitwood/PA Archive

Late last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodogan stated that, after local elections on March 30, he would pursue a further crackdown on internet freedoms. In an interview with the Turkish TV channel ATV, Erdogan said:

"Some are talking about YouTube, Facebook, this and that, asking 'What would the world say' and all that. Some of my friends and I remain determined about this; we will not allow this nation to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or whatever. We will take the necessary steps in the firmest way."

In the wake of these remarks, Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, took a different tack entirely when asked about it after Friday prayers. Here is what President Gul said, responding to questions from journalists in front of the mosque:

Question: Mr. President, PM Erdogan attended a TV show last night and gave an important message about social media, signaling that Facebook and YouTube could be blocked. What is your take on that? Is such a blockage possible?

President Gül: "I didn't have the chance to watch that show since I had a program to attend last night, but I read the news about this issue in newspapers today.

First of all, I would like everyone to know that Turkey is a democratic country with rule of law. While we make tireless efforts to further strengthen the basic rights and freedoms within the framework of democratic principles and the rule of law, there can't be any stepping back. Everyone should believe in this.

You know about the recently-passed law on the Internet. There were problematic articles in that law, but when I drew attention to these articles, the Parliament corrected all of them. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook are accepted all around the world, and their closure cannot be of discussion.

On the other hand, should a crime be perpetrated over these platforms, such as a violation of privacy or denigrating one's life, the related pages can be blocked with a court order, of course. Whatever is considered to be a crime in real world, is a crime in the virtual world as well.

There is no stepping back from freedoms in Turkey. We have always been proud of the reforms we made to expand freedoms. These will proceed further."

Given this statement, TheWorldPost asked a source close to the President to clarify where the problematic internet crackdown bill originally passed by the Parliament a few weeks ago -- which he did not veto -- stands now. Here is the reply:

The President has approved the internet bill, on the 18th of February, with the promise from the government that the most contentious articles within the bill - and, in essence, they were the ones that are most incompatible with the globally accepted norms - will be immediately revised with a following bill.

And the government has kept its promise to this end: it presented revisions to the Parliamentary commission the day after the President's approval, and these revisions have been passed by the Parliament, word by word as the President recommended, on the 25th. The President ratified these revisions and signed them into a new law on the 28th of February.

There are four very fundamental revisions, all proposed by President Gül, and all have been agreed upon by the government.

1. With the revisions, the Telecommunications Authority, or TIB as is known in Turkish, will have the right to block a web page, upon requests on very restricted margins; but will ask for a court order within 24 hours. If the court does not approve the blockage within another 24 hours, the blockage will be removed.

So, in this revised version, there will be a very clear requirement for a court order. In the former version there was none. Here, I should note that, in many developed democracies, the court order comes after, not before, the administrative decision, when there are issues such as revelation of state secrets, serious security threats, or violation of fundamental personal privacies. And I think 24 hours is a fair time period for a court order to come.

The important thing here is that TIB, but not the ordinary citizen, will ask for the approval of the court; which will make TIB acting more responsibly. In the previous version, the ordinary citizen whose web page was blocked was required to go to the court to remove the blockage.

2. Special expertise courts will be established to handle all these cases, the approach of which will be more qualified and informed than a normal court.

3. The former version of the law was requiring any internet service provider to hand in the navigation data of users to TIB upon the latter's request - the service providers keep these records for up to 2 years in accordance with EU criteria. The version revised with President Gül's initiative requires TIB to have court order to request data from service providers about users' navigation histories.

4. The service providers will keep only metadata of the internet users. Formerly, they were keeping much more detailed information.

These four revisions are the most fundamental ones.

Had the President vetoed the bill, the government would send it back without a change, in which case the President would not have had the authority to veto it for a second time. In such a case, these four most fundamental changes would have been totally impossible to realize for at least a couple of months, until the Constitutional Court would provide a verdict - if any.