27 November 2008, 10:00am
Turkey’s status as the only country in the world which blocks ‘YouTube’ is being challenged by a leading advocate of the country’s European Union membership, during a high level parliamentary human rights delegation.
British Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt highlighted that the one thousand websites blocked in Turkey puts the country alongside Iran, North Korea and Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders for cyber censorship. Richard Howitt MEP is calling for legal reform both to respect freedom of expression as well as advancing the country’s economic interests.
The British Euro MP will call for the ban to be overturned at a meeting with Turkish Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin in Ankara today.
Richard Howitt MEP, who is Vice-President of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee visiting Turkey this week said:
‘As a modern country looking forward to European Union membership, Turkey should be embracing new communications rather than putting itself in the same bracket as some of the world’s pariah states.
‘Whilst honouring Turkey’s founder, Ataturk, blocking more than 50 websites for insulting his memory cannot be equated with banning sites for child pornography or paedophilia.
‘Britain’s Queen has her own channel on YouTube and Turkey should be exploiting the political and economic opportunities it provides, rather than seeking to ban it.
‘Banning YouTube, Google’s blogging site, the websites of a teachers’ trade union, Richard Dawkins and even a Turkish dictionary stands alongside more than 40 cases against writers and journalists even since the reform of the so-called anti-Turkishness article of the country’s penal code.
‘It shows the battle for free speech is integral to the changes the country needs to make to uphold European and human rights law.’
Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate has blocked over 1,000 websites since last year under the country’s law against cyber crime, which includes offences insulting the memory of Ataturk. Turkey is named alongside Vietnam, Tunisia, North Korea Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Iran for internet censorship by the Turkish Bar Association Information Centre. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders this week condemned a fourth court order blocking access to YouTube, in the same week that British based cyber-rights.org published a new report entitled Internet: Restricted Access in Turkey.
National Secular Society – NSS provokes protest about Turkey’s internet ban on Dawkins: “NSS provokes protest about Turkey’s internet ban on Dawkins
The National Secular Society has joined with a Dutch MEP to complain to the EU Enlargement Commissioner about a Turkish ban on the internet site of Richard Dawkins.
The Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, who is an Honorary Associate of the NSS, has written to Oli Rehn, the commissioner in charge of considering whether candidate countries are ready to join the European Union, complaining about a Turkish court decision to ban Richard Dawkins’ website.
In the letter, Ms in ’t Veld writes that she wishes Mr Rehn to investigate ‘the blocking of the website of Professor Richard Dawkins, the world-famous evolutionary biologist. A criminal court in Istanbul reportedly banned the site in September 2008 on the grounds that it ‘violated’ Adnan Oktar’s personality after Professor Dawkins criticised Oktar’s lavishly-produced creationist book Atlas of Creation, which is being distributed in Europe in large numbers.’
Ms in ’t Veld says that it is a requirement that countries seeking to accede to the European Union must observe a fundamental right to free expression. On the face of it, the case referred to was a violation of that principle.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, who had asked Ms in ’t Veld to take the matter up, said: ‘Such a crude denial of basic free expression is surely not acceptable in a country that seeks to be part of the EU. We hope that our action will cause Turkey to urgently rethink this matter.’
You can ask your own MEP to support Sophie in ’t Veld’s protest. If you don’t know who your MEP is, you can find out here
28 November 2008″
Brussels, 18 November 2008
Commissioner for Enlargement
rue de la Loi 200
Dear Commissioner Rehn, dear Olli,
I am writing to express my concern at reports of a Turkish court compromising freedom of expression in the context of Turkey’s application to join the EU.
I would like you to investigate the specific example given below and attempt to see if it forms (as we fear) part of a wider picture of concern, and take the matter up with the Turkish authorities.
The example we cite relates to the blocking of the website of Professor Richard Dawkins, the world-famous evolutionary biologist. A criminal court in Istanbul reportedly banned the site in September 2008 on the grounds that it ‘violated’ Adnan Oktar’s personality after Professor Dawkins criticised Oktar creationist book ‘Atlas of Creation’, which is being distributed in Europe in large numbers.
The basis of our complaint is the web/press reports shown in Appendix 1, which were drawn to my attention by the UK’s National Secular Society of which I am a Honorary Associate. I am also writing as the Chair of the EU Working Group for the Separation of Religion and Politics.
Such blockings are in stark contrast to the progress you have been calling for as one of the conditions for Turkey’s succession to the EU. What is happening is worse than Turkish authorities not standing up for freedom of expression; it appears that the state’s mechanism itself is enforcing the restriction on freedom of expression.
Our concern about the banning does not rest in principle on Professor Dawkins’ eminence; however the court’s decision is all the more worrying, given it is difficult to think of anyone more qualified than him to speak on science matters, being the Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/index.shtml
We believe it essential that the EU remains committed to insisting that countries are not permitted to accede until they conform to fundamental rights. We admire your work in this area and note in Appendix 2 below a number of references you have made to requiring Turkey to improve freedom of expression, for the benefit of others who read this letter, which we regard as an open one.
I look forward to receiving confirmation that you intend to investigate the matter, and subsequently what action you intend to take, including making references to renewed concerns in your reports about the progress being made by candidate states in the vital areas of fundamental rights.
Sophie in ’t Veld MEP
A delegation from the European Parliament urged Turkish officials to make the necessary legal arrangements to enhance freedom of expression and eventually lift the ban on access to YouTube.
European parliamentarians urge Turkey to remove YouTube ban
‘Banning YouTube, Google’s blogging site, the websites of a teachers’ trade union, Richard Dawkins and even a Turkish dictionary stands alongside more than 40 cases against writers and journalists even since the reform of the so-called anti-Turkishness article of the penal code,’ Richard Howitt, the vice president of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee, said in a written statement on Friday.
The British Euro MP called for the ban to be overturned at a meeting with Turkish Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin in Ankara on Thursday, the statement added.
Howitt criticized the ban, saying that around 1,000 websites are blocked in Turkey and this places the country alongside some of the world’s worst nations for cyber censorship.
As a modern country looking forward to European Union membership, Turkey should be embracing new communications rather than putting itself in the same bracket as some of the world’s pariah states, Howitt added in the statement.
‘Whilst honoring Turkey’s founder, Ataturk, blocking more than 50 websites for insulting his memory cannot be equated with banning sites for child pornography or pedophilia,’ he said.
Access to the world’s largest video-sharing site, YouTube, has been blocked from Turkey for months. Last week, Turkish Prime Minister surprised everybody when he said that he can access the YouTube and everyone else should do as well.