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Turkish gov’t has agreed to abandon controversial ‘agents of influence’ legislation: MP

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has abandoned its plans to include a controversial piece of legislation in a proposed judicial package that was feared would further curb freedom of speech in the country by expanding the scope of espionage, an opposition lawmaker announced.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy group chairman Murat Emir told journalists at a meeting in parliament on Thursday that AKP officials have promised that the proposed legislation on “agents of influence” would be taken out of the ninth judicial package, which includes amendments to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

“Luckily, we received a promise [from the AKP] about it. It will not come to the floor of parliament,” Emir told reporters.

According to the proposed legislation, people who are accused of disseminating black propaganda against Turkey or who appear to be speaking in favor of Turkey when in fact they are actually speaking against it as well as individuals who damage the country’s economic, social or public order would be defined as “agents of influence” and face prison time.

Emir said the proposed legislation on agents of influence would give a “passkey” to the judicial authorities to launch investigations into people and prosecute and arrest them on the pretext that they are “working against the state.”

He said criminal law should be definite and foreseeable and devoid of vagueness.

Press organizations and rights groups have warned that the proposed legislation could be used in particular against journalists who work for foreign media outlets or media outlets that receive foreign funding in Turkey in addition to everyday people who express criticism about the political and economic developments in the country.

Paris-based press organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned last month in a statement that if the Turkish Parliament adopts the “broadly and vaguely worded” legislation, any journalist who annoys the government could easily be targeted as an agent of influence who supposedly supported the positions or interests of a foreign country.

The AKP’s alleged retreat from the proposed agents of influence legislation comes against the backdrop of ongoing efforts at rapprochement between the party and the CHP, which emerged following the local elections on March 31.

The efforts are aimed at reducing political tensions and fostering dialogue between the government and opposition parties following the March 31 municipal elections when the AKP sustained its worst defeat since its establishment in 2002.

The CHP, however, emerged as the most successful party in the elections, after decades, keeping big municipalities and winning back some others formerly known as AKP strongholds.

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