From Farmville to Gayville, Internet censorship continues in Turkey

On 22 September 2009 I estimated that access to at least 6000 websites are blocked from Turkey. That was followed by the infamous blocking decisions involving both myspace.com and Last.fm from Turkey. During this weekend we had further cases of access blocking from Turkey.

(Article by Doç. Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, 04.10.2009 – Updated on 08.10.2009)

First, yesterday morning (Saturday, 03 October, 2009) Internet users from Turkey were unable to access their virtual farms in Farmville, a popular game offered by Zynga.com through Facebook. Those who tried to access Farmville and other online community based games offered by Zynga through Facebook were greeted with the following message:

After technical analysis and legal evaluation based on the catalog crimes of the Law no 5651, Administrative measure has been taken for this website (zynga.com) according to decision no 421.02.02.2009-272446 dated 02/10/2009 of ‘Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı’.

The blocking decision was an administrative (rather than court issued) one issued by the Presidency which was obviously not available for comments during the weekend but it was soon discovered that Zynga and its games were blocked because Zynga promoted gambling through some of its social games such as ZyngaPoker and Live Poker. The ban triggered protests and heated discussions through Facebook groups and FriendFeed threads.

However, the ban did not last long and later in the evening happy Turkish Farmville users were back in their farms. It is not clear why the ban lasted so short or what triggered the removal of the ban but news reports suggest that the Presidency simply changed its mind. Perhaps they realized that they reacted too strongly and that their decision was disproportionate. Apparently further investigations will take place with regards to the gambling issue…

On the same day, access to two further websites were blocked from Turkey. These are gabile.com and hadigayri.com which in combination form the largest online gay community in Turkey with approximately 225000 users. The users of these two sites were greeted with a similar message to that of zynga.com:

After technical analysis and legal evaluation based on the catalog crimes of the Law no 5651, Administrative measure has been taken for this website (gabile.com) according to decision no 421.02.02.2009-272446 dated 02/10/2009 of ‘Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı’.

I was told by the site operators that the two sites are planning to challenge the administrative blocking order as soon as possible, and they allege that homophobia rather than obscene content on the websites triggered the blocking decision. I was contacted by the operators of both gabile.com and hadigayri.com during the last few days and we now know what triggered the administrative blocking orders. It is encouragement to prostitution rather than the initially thought reason of obscenity. Both websites will challenge the decision of TIB and CNNTurk today reported that gabile.com will start legal proceedings against the Presidency as soon as possible.

I have also seen the communications between the Presidency and with the website operators, and the Presidency reasoning so far is largely vague, and it is not clear how the websites encourage prostitution. Actions of the Presidency can only be described as censorship in the absence of clear reasoning.

Blocking policies of the Presidency lack transparency, and accountability. Therefore, I increasingly question the compatibility of administrative blocking decisions taken by the Presidency with regards to the fundamental right of freedom of expression. There could be a breach of Article 10, ECHR if blocking measures or filtering tools are used at state level to silence politically motivated speech on the Internet, or the criteria for blocking or filtering is secret, or the decisions of the administrative bodies are not publicly made available for legal challenge. Unfortunately, gabile.com and hadigayri.com blocking decisions confirm my fears.

Latest update is that the blocking decision involving hadigayri.com has been lifted but gabile.com is continuing. Hadigayri.com removed some of the pages that were complained of by the Presidency hence the decision to overturn the decision.

I will update the story as further information is made available.

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1 Comment on "From Farmville to Gayville, Internet censorship continues in Turkey"

  1. I think they withdrew the ban because one of the managerial people’s wife or son likes to play Farmville, and protested after the ban… One man can change everybody’s life if he has the power. It is that simple. Like the good old times…

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