ANKARA — Turkish President Abdullah Gul has lost tens of thousands of Twitter followers after signing into law a controversial bill to tighten controls on web use.
Gul, a frequent social media user, lost almost 80,000 followers overnight after he tweeted late Tuesday that he had approved the measure.
He said the government had assured him it would soften two disputed articles of the legislation, which the opposition and rights groups say infringes citizens’ freedoms.
“I am aware of the problems mainly on two points…. These concerns will be taken into account in the new law,” said Gul, who still has 4.3 million Twitter followers.
Nonetheless, the move triggered an angry response on Twitter.
“First thing to do today#unfollow@cbabdullahgul,” tweeted one user using the name mevan.
“President Gul approved Internet law. Welcome to the censorship era on Internet,” wrote another, named tanikunal.
The Internet bill has sparked outrage both at home and abroad and fuelled concerns over the state of democracy under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“We will raise in detail at every international platform how the Internet law will be used by the Erdogan government to repress freedoms,” said Faruk Logoglu, deputy head of the opposition Republican People’s Party.
“With this law, Turkey will be in a much worse league of countries than China and Iran,” he told AFP.
Erdogan has vehemently denied accusations of online censorship, and boasted that the number of Internet subscribers in predominantly Muslim Turkey has swelled to 34 million from 20,000 since his party, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), came to power in 2002.
Under the new law, telecommunications authorities can demand that Internet providers block pages deemed insulting or considered an invasion of privacy.
The authorities have already used the law’s broad powers by blocking a website of the “Redhack” group on Wednesday, according to the Radikal newspaper.
Redhack angered the AKP by publishing the private cell phone numbers of candidates running in March 30 local elections and labelling them “Istanbul’s thief candidates.”
Redhack claims to be affiliated with the international hackers’ group Anonymous, and has carried out several online attacks against state and private domains since 1997.
Transport Minister Lutfi Elvan had signalled changes to the legislation at a meeting with political parties in parliament hours before the president stamped the law.
The government is now proposing requiring authorities to inform a judge about any decision to block a web page.
The judge would then have to issue a ruling within 48 hours or the move would be deemed invalid.
In office since 2003, Erdogan is openly suspicious of the Internet, branding Twitter a “menace” for helping organize mass nationwide protests in June in which six people died and thousands were hurt.
Observers say Gul, who also hails from the AKP, has been trapped between his concern for his own political career and his conflicting views with Erdogan’s conservative policies.
The president, who has portrayed himself as an Internet fan, tweeted in 2011: “Anyone who wants it should be able to roam freely on the Internet.”