Written by Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, Associate Professor, Human Rights Law Research Center, Faculty of Law, Istanbul Bilgi University, and Director of Cyber-Rights.Org. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Internet censorship is alive and kicking in Turkey with at least 5.000 websites currently being blocked from the country. Some commentators estimate that number to be around 8.000 while the official blocking statistics are currently being kept secret by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB).
While YouTube is the most well known example, several websites are blocked for political reasons (including leftist, and pro-Kurdish news websites) outside the scope of the current law. As was documented by a January 2010 Report of the OSCE on Turkey and Internet Censorship news sites such as Atilim, Özgür Gündem, Keditör, Günlük Gazetesi, and Firat News Agency are blocked indefinitely by the courts. The website of El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper is also currently blocked from Turkey because of a single video clip deemed to be illegal.
In June 2010 the situation in terms of Internet censorship has moved from bad to worse in Turkey as 44 IP addresses jointly used by YouTube and Google were initially blocked by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency, and then by the Ankara’s 1st Criminal Court of Peace. The reason behind the IP address blocking was to make it even harder to access YouTube from Turkey (which was already blocked since May 2008) but the IP blocking paralyzed access to numerous Google related services such as Analytics, Translate, Docs, Books, Map, and Earth. The author of this article together with a fellow academic, Dr. Kerem Altiparmak appealed against the decision of the Court arguing that the blocking of Google related services had no legal basis, remains unlawful, and is regarded as a serious infringement on freedom of speech, and too far-reaching than reasonably necessary in a democratic society. That appeal has been dismissed by the Court and the decision of the Court is final. Having exhausted all the available national remedies an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is imminent.
So, we marched to protest…
Internet users are known to be glued to their computers and their keyboards, and so far protests have been through Facebook groups, Twitter, and through the popular FriendFeed social network. However, a protest walk was organized by a web based organization called March Against Censorship, and the Istanbul Mayor’s Office was notified by EMO – The Chamber of Electrical Engineers. The whole protest march was organized in less than 10 days but there was lot of media coverage prior to the protest, and social media platforms were extensively used to raise the profile of the event.
Despite it was a weekend day, and really hot, approximately 2000 persons marched against government censorship of the Internet on Saturday, the 17th of July, 2010. The first ever protest march involving Internet censorship started in the popular Taksim Square while the protestors carried a banner that stated “Censorship-free Internet”.
The main placard carried by the protestors read: “Censorship-free Internet”
The one hour long march included demonstrators from several civil society organizations, and Internet groups including Cyber-Rights.Org.TR (run by the author of this article), Young Civilians, ‘Sansüre Sansür’ (Censor Censorship), ‘Sansüre Karşı Ortak Platform’ (Joint Platform against Censorship), the satirical Penguen Magazine, Turkish Netizen movement, and INETD – the Internet Technologies Association. Demonstrators had whistles, portable music systems and tambourines.
Several exciting banners coloured the march including “Do not click on our freedom,” “Censorship protects you from the truth,” “Do not touch my porn”, “This placard has been banned by a court order”, “Say no to censorship on political websites,” and “Censorship offends me”.
The anti-censorship protest march ended in the Galatasaray square with a press declaration that called for the abolishment of Law No. 5651 entitled Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publication which forms the basis of the Turkish Internet Censorship Infrastructure.
The demonstrators demanded unrestricted Internet access from the government in the name of freedom of speech and freedom of information. The members of the Joint Platform against Censorship announced that there will be several protest events including marches at the capital city of Ankara, and in Izmir, the third biggest city in Turkey. It remains to be seen whether the government will listen but certainly the users raised their voice, this time in the streets rather than in front of their keyboards.