Reuters: Turkish Net closures spark doubt over freedoms Turkish Net closures spark doubt over freedoms: “Turkish Net closures spark doubt over freedoms


September 24, 2008 at 5:26 PM EDT

ISTANBUL — A Turkish court decision to ban the website of a renowned British atheist academic has stirred fresh doubts about the European Union candidate’s commitment to freedom of speech.

Approximately 850 Internet websites, including Youtube, have been blocked this year in Turkey, the number swollen by recent laws making it possible to block sites without a court order.

‘When you look at Internet regulation Turkey looks to be in the same league as Tunisia or North Korea, and that doesn’t bode well for EU requirements,’ said Cengiz Aktar, professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University.

‘The Internet is one of the most instrumental means of spreading information, it is an unprecedented instrument, and forbidding the internet is forbidding freedom of speech,’ he said.

The website of Oxford professor and evolutionist Richard Dawkins was banned in Turkey earlier this month after the Muslim country’s leading creationist advocate, Adnan Oktar, said he had found slanders of himself there.

The website currently carries in its masthead a picture of the Turkish flag and the heading ‘Banned in Turkey.’

Turkey’s AK Party government, which has roots in political Islam but also embraces centre-right and nationalist groupings, says it has broadened the scope of public debate since taking power in 2002. But curbs on websites and a dispute with the country’s leading publishing group have raised concerns.

Turkey is hoping to start this year two new chapters of EU reform work, which deal with media and society, and analysts say Europe will not be pleased with Turkish Internet regulations.

The majority of sites in Turkey closed by court order are due to allegations sites encourage suicide, contain libel, child pornography, help users access drugs or promote prostitution.

But Internet websites, including Youtube, have also been closed for insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, or for touching on the concept of Turkishness, a sensitive issue in the deeply nationalist-minded country.

Internet regulations have been tightened even further recently with a law that was passed in May, giving permission to the country’s Telecommunications Directorate to close down websites based on complaints by individual users.

‘All you have to do is give the name of the Internet site, give some information about the Internet site about why you think the site is illegal,’ said Ceren Unal, assistant professor of law at Bilkent University.

‘If they [Telecommunications Directorate] take your complaint into consideration and they usually do, the site will be closed down.’

The ease with which Internet sites have been closed has rattled free speech advocates in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country but with a secular constitution.

‘It’s like finding two pages in a book illegal and reacting by closing down the entire library,’ said Mustafa Akgul, an internet expert at Bilkent University.

‘It’s not only about becoming part of the European Union, about becoming a democracy. It’s about joining the rest of the world.’

The European Union has long criticized free-speech rights in Turkey since the days of article 301, which punished writers for ‘insulting Turkishness.’

Under pressure from the EU, the article was changed replacing ‘Turkishness’ with ‘the Turkish nation.’ But critics say the vagueness of the term can still lead to arbitrary prosecution.

The article was used to prosecute Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and Turkish ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was killed by an ultranationalist.

In protest at the court banning internet websites, some 500 internet sites closed themselves earlier this summer.

Across the page was written in bold red lettering: ‘Access to this Internet site has been blocked on our own decision,’ mocking the statement that comes up on Youtube in Turkey, ‘blocked by court decision.’

One of the largest on-line Turkish-English dictionaries Zargan participated in the protest.

‘I was personally very disturbed by the arbitrary decisions. especially the fact that no explanation is given. Censorship must be clear and should not be politically guided,’ said Orhan Bilgin, founding member of Zargan.

Closing Internet sites has led to a proliferation of proxy websites that contain the same content as a banned site, but on a different web address.

Proxies for Youtube number in the dozens and similar proxies exist for other banned websites.

‘In the end this might be good for Turkey, we’re becoming incredible savvy about getting around these bans,’ said Mr. Bilgin.”

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