Robert Tait in Istanbul, guardian.co.uk,Thursday October 16 2008 17.50 BST
The website of Turkey’s third largest-selling newspaper has been blocked following a complaint by an Islamic creationist.
The case will revive concerns about the country’s attitude towards internet censorship and press freedom.
A court ruled that Turkish web users should be denied access to the Vatan site after deciding it had insulted Adnan Oktar, a prolific writer who has disputed the theory of evolution.
It is thought to be the first time a major Turkish newspaper has been blocked online, although around 850 sites are currently filtered.
Oktar, who last month successfully applied to have the website of the
British evolutionist Richard Dawkins closed in Turkey, said he had been defamed in readers’ comments about stories on Vatan, a liberal publication which has often criticised him.
His media spokeswoman, Seda Aral, claimed the comments included obscenities and said the paper had ignored requests by his lawyers to remove them.
‘There were swear words and insults that no decent person could
repeat,’ she told guardian.co.uk. ‘This is not free speech. We are trying to protect ourselves.
‘Vatan newspaper is always propagating against Mr Oktar, and constantly publishes allegations about him. When people read these allegations, they are provoked into using these words and insults against him.’
Oktar, who writes under the pseudonym Harun Yahya, has a long track record of litigation.
Last year, he succeeded in blocking access to WorldPress.com, and in April sued Google Groups for libel, resulting in it being blocked for a time.
Another action last month led to the blocking of the Turkish Union of Scientific and Education Workers’ site.
The Vatan case came soon after the country’s restrictive internet policies were highlighted by the Nobel prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk.
He complained that the blocking of YouTube – filtered because of videos allegedly insulting Ataturk – had deprived writers and artists of a valuable research source.
‘Oppression of this order does not reflect our ideas on the proper promotion of Turkish culture,’ he said in a Frankfurt book festival speech attended by the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul.
Critics say Turkey’s penal code makes it too easy to obtain blocking orders, although prohibitions are often easily overcome through proxy servers.
Encouraging suicide, libel, child pornography, peddling drugs and promoting prostitution are the most common reasons given for the filtering of sites.
Freedom of expression issues were brought into sharper fous this week when the army chief of staff, Ilker Basbug, told journalists to ‘be careful and stand in the right position’.
His comments came after the Taraf newspaper published leaked images it claimed showed the army had failed to act on prior intelligence of an attack by Kurdish militants in which 17 soldiers died two weeks ago.
Senior journalists denounced the remarks as a ‘threat’ to press freedom.