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Archive for the ‘freedom of speech’ Category

IGF Boycott Statement

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

IGF Boycott Statement

18 August, 2014

You can download a formatted and footnoted PDF version from here

The objective of each annual IGF programme is to maximize the opportunity for open and inclusive dialogue and the exchange of idea; to build capacities amongst all stakeholders and benefit from the multi-stakeholder perspective of the IGF. The 2003 WSIS Geneva Declaration on Principles reaffirms “as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

The Ninth Annual Internet Governance Forum (“IGF”) Meeting will be held in Istanbul, Turkey on 2-5 September 2014. Let us briefly explain why we decided to boycott IGF.

Between May 2007 and July 2014 Turkey blocked access to approximately 48.000 websites subject to its controversial Internet Law No 5651 which allows for blocking access to websites with the goal of protecting children from harmful content.

Although, the Law aimed to protect children from harmful content, from the very beginning it has been used to prevent adults’ access to information. In February 2014, amendments made to Law No 5651 extended blocking provisions to include URL-based blocking of Internet content which also allegedly include violation of personal rights or privacy infringements. The same amendments compelled all ISPs to be part of an Association for Access Providers to centrally enforce blocking orders within 4 hours of receipt and introduced one-to-two-year data retention requirements for hosting companies in addition to all ISPs. Furthermore, subject to new provisions, ISPs are required to take all necessary measures to block access to alternative access means such as proxy websites and other circumvention services including possibly VPN services. The amended version of the Law 5651 also shield the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB) staff from prosecution if they commit crimes during the exercise of their duties within TIB.

Since the introduction of the controversial amendments access to both Twitter and YouTube has been blocked in March 2014 arbitrarily and unlawfully by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency as confirmed by the recent decisions of the Turkish Constitutional Court. With both blocking orders the government aimed to prevent the circulation of graft allegations of 17 December 2013 before the local elections to be held on 30 March 2014. During the blocking period, the authorities also ordered major ISPs to hijack Google and OpenDNS’s DNS servers tampering with the DNS system to surveil communications as well as to prevent users to circumvent the blocking orders. The Constitutional Court stated that the blocking of Twitter by TIB constituted a grave intervention on the freedom of expression of all Twitter users. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court in a 14-2 majority judgment decided that the YouTube ban was unconstitutional and infringed on the applicants freedom of expression protected by the Constitution.

However, despite these strong decisions Twitter decided to implement its Country Withheld Content Policy for Turkey and started to block access to certain Turkish Twitter accounts as well as individual tweets. It was reported in June 2014 that Twitter complied with 44 out of 51 court decisions since they visited Ankara on 14 April 2014 and the US based social media platform continues to aid and assist Turkish authorities to censor political content from Turkey.

Facebook also banned pages of a number of alternative news sources on its social media platform, including Yüksekova Haber (Yuksekova News), Ötekilerin Postası (The Others’ Post), Yeni Özgür Politika (New Free Policy), Kürdi Müzik (Kurdish Music), and other related groups on Kurdish movements during 2013 and has been critized for removing several pages related to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Regardless of the above mentioned Constitutional Court decisions, currently, access to popular platforms such as Scribd, Last.fm, Metacafe, and Soundcloud is blocked from Turkey. Access to Wordpress, DailyMotion, Vimeo and Google+ has ben blocked temporarily by court or administrative orders during the last year. A number of alternative news websites that report news on Kurdish issues remain indefinitely blocked from Turkey including Firat News, Azadiya Welat, Dengemed and Keditor. In total it is estimated that 200 websites are banned indefinitely for their pro-Kurdish or left wing publications. The practice of banning the future publication of entire websites goes beyond “any notion of ‘necessary’ restraint in a democratic society and, instead, amounts to censorship”.

Over the past year, many users received suspended sentences and fines for their social media activity, usually on charges related to terrorism, blasphemy, or criticism of the state and its officials. In September 2013, during a retrial at the 19th Istanbul Criminal Court of Peace, pianist and composer Fazil Say was given a suspended sentence of 10 months and court supervision for insulting religious values in a series of tweets.

Subsequent to Gezi Park protests of June 2013 dozens of people were detained for their social media posts in the ensuing crackdown. Criminal investigations and prosecutions were initiated subject to Articles 214 and 217 of the Turkish Criminal Code concerning incitement to commit a crime and disobey the law as well as with regards to miscellaneous provisions of Law No 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations. However, such criminal investigations and prosecutions “do a disservice to democracy and often even endanger it” creating a chilling effect on all social media platform users. On the contrary, “the dominant position which the Government occupies makes it necessary for it to display restraint in resorting to criminal proceedings, particularly where other means are available for replying to the unjustified attacks and criticisms of its adversaries or the media”. No such restraing has been displayed by the government authorities since Gezi.

In addition to widespread blocking of websites and content as well as criminal investigations and prosecutions to silence political speech, the Turkish authorities are also building surveillance infrastructure including the deployment of deep packet inspection systems to monitor all forms of communications unlawfully.

Therefore, we decided to boycott IGF 2014 hosted by Ministry of Transport, Maritime and Communications and coordinated by the Information and Technologies Authority. We also confirm that we will not be taking part in the IGF.

Yaman Akdeniz & Kerem Altiparmak

Domain Seizures Do Not Violate Free Speech, U.S. Court Rules

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Domain Seizures Do Not Violate Free Speech, U.S. Court Rules: “

A U.S. federal court has ruled that the domain seizure of sports streaming site Rojadirecta does not violate the First Amendment, and has refused to hand the domain back to its Spanish owner. The order stands in conflict with previous Supreme Court rulings and doesn’t deliver much hope to other website owners who operate under U.S. controlled domain names.

rojaAt the end of January 2011 the U.S. authorities began yet another round of domain seizures, this time against sites connected with sports streaming. This third round of action in ‘Operation in Our Sites’ took control of domains owned by sports streaming site Rojadirecta.

While most owners of affected domains have decided not to appeal the seizures, the Spanish owner of the Rojadirecta, one of Spain’s most popular sites, did.

Two months ago the company behind the site, Puerto 80, filed a petition in the Southern District of New York for the return of its domains. This call was later supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who together with Center for Democracy and Technology and Public Knowledge submitted an amicus brief in support of the Spanish company.

Yesterday, United States District Court Judge Paul Crotty decided to deny Puerto 80′s request, which means the domain will remain in the hands of the U.S. Government. The Judge argues that seizing Rojadirecta’s .com and .org domains does not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.

‘Puerto 80’s First Amendment argument fails,’ the Judge writes.

‘Puerto 80 alleges that, in seizing the domain names, the Government has suppressed the content in the ‘forums’ on its websites, which may be accessed by clicking a link in the upper left of the home page. The main purpose of the Rojadirecta websites, however, is to catalog links to the copyrighted athletic events — any argument to the contrary is clearly disingenuous.’

The Judge further ruled that the claimed 32% decline in traffic and the subsequent harm to Puerto 80′s business is not an issue as visitors can still access the site through foreign domains. Puerto 80′s argument, that users may not be aware of these alternatives, was simply waived.

‘Rojadirecta argues that, because ‘there is no way to communicate the availability of these alternative sites on the .org or .com domains . . . the vast majority of users will simply stop visiting the sites altogether.’ This argument is unfounded — Rojadirecta has a large internet presence and can simply distribute information about the seizure and its new domain names to its customers,’ the Judge writes.

‘In addition, Puerto 80 does not explain how it generates profit or argue that it is losing a significant amount of revenue as a result of the seizure. Specifically, Puerto 80 states that it does not generate revenue from the content to which it links, and it does not claim to generate revenue from advertising displayed while such content is playing,’ Judge Crotty adds.

From the above the Judge concludes that the drop in visitor traffic due to their seizure does not establish a substantial hardship, and therefore no reason exists to return the domain.

This line of reasoning goes directly against previous rulings in First Amendment cases. As the EFF points out, in two earlier Supreme Court decisions it was concluded that having alternatives available does not mean that freedom of speech isn’t violated.

According to the EFF, the peculiarities of the ruling don’t end there.

‘As if misapplying the relevant substantive First Amendment analysis wasn’t bad enough, the court failed to even address the fatal procedural First Amendment flaws inherent in the seizure process: namely, that a mere finding of ‘probable cause’ does not and cannot justify a prior restraint. How the court believes that the seizure satisfies the First Amendment in this regard is a mystery,’ they write.

The decision of District Court Judge Paul Crotty to stand firmly behind the Government is worrying for all other websites who operate under U.S. controlled domains. It’s yet another step in granting the Government and copyright holders more control over the Internet, at the expense of smaller businesses and the rights of citizens.

The Order

Source: Domain Seizures Do Not Violate Free Speech, U.S. Court Rules

(Via TorrentFreak.)

The Associated Press: 56-nation Internet review shows wide differences

Friday, July 8th, 2011

The Associated Press: 56-nation Internet review shows wide differences

(AP) – 08.07.2011

VIENNA (AP) — An international review showing wide variances of Internet freedom gives Finland the best marks for making citizens’ access to a broadband connection a legal right.

But the 225-page report also expresses concern about the level of blocking practices encountered in some of the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The report, published Friday, notes that Turkey has decided to introduce a mandatory Internet filtering system effective Aug. 22.

It said this would be the first such restriction within the OSCE region, which encompasses Europe, Russia, North America and central Asian states.

The report was presented at OSCE headquarters in Vienna.

Internet blocking practices a concern, access is a human right, says OSCE media freedom representative at launch of OSCE-wide study

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Internet blocking practices a concern, access is a human right, says OSCE media freedom representative at launch of OSCE-wide study – Representative on Freedom of the Media

08.07.2011

VIENNA, 8 July 2011 – The Internet should remain free and access should be considered a human right, said the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović at the presentation of a report on regulations affecting new media in the OSCE region today.

The study, commissioned by the office of the Representative and authored by Yaman Akdeniz, a professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, measures the level of Internet content regulation in the OSCE area and assesses national laws in light of OSCE commitments and international standards of free expression and access to information.

The Study on legal provisions and practices related to freedom of expression, the free flow of information and media pluralism on the Internet is the first ever OSCE-wide review of laws regulating the Internet. Mijatović said the rapid development of Internet technologies and growth in user numbers were factors that inspired the report, which offers recommendations on how to keep the Internet open.

‘We will use the study as an advocacy tool to promote speech-friendly Internet regulation in the OSCE participating States,’ Mijatović said. ‘Some governments already recognize access to the Internet as a human right. This trend should be supported as a crucial element of media freedom in the 21st century.’

The study found that some participating States had problems submitting information for the study because legal provisions or relevant statistics were not easily retrievable. It also emphasizes that this lack of clarity makes it difficult for users to understand Internet regulation regimes.

Akdeniz expressed concern about the level of blocking practices encountered in the OSCE region. ‘Restrictions to freedom of expression must comply with international norms. No compliance could lead to censorship,’ he said.

The Representative highlighted other key trends revealed in the survey. ‘Legislation in many countries does not recognize that freedom of expression and freedom of the media equally apply to Internet as a modern means of exercising these rights and in some of our states, ‘extremism’, terrorist propaganda, harmful content and hate speech are vaguely defined and may be widely interpreted to ban speech types that Internet users may not deem illegal,’ Mijatović said.

The study argues that filtering and blocking measures are in most cases incompatible with freedom of expression and the free flow of information, both of which are basic OSCE commitments.

It is also a concern that several countries allow for complete suspension of Internet services at times of war, in a state of emergency and in response to other security threats, added Mijatović.

OSCE warns of Europe-wide trend to restrict internet content

Friday, July 8th, 2011

OSCE warns of Europe-wide trend to restrict internet content – Monsters and Critics

Jul 8, 2011, 16:49 GMT

Vienna – More and more European governments are putting restrictions on internet use, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) said Friday, warning that this trend could weaken democratic rights.

The Vienna-based organization issued a study covering 46 of its 56 member states which found that filtering nd blocking of online content nearly always violates the principles of free speech and the free flow of information.

‘Too many governments are really trying to suppress and to restrict,’ the OSCE’s chief media freedom observer, Dunja Mijatovic, told the German Press Agency dpa.

The study highlighted that content blocking, mostly of child pornography, happens in most Western European countries under voluntary arrangements between authorities and service providers, rather than under well-defined laws.

However, such ad-hoc arrangements might be used to block other types of content, said study author Yaman Akdeniz, a professor at Istanbul Bilgi University.

‘Other countries might rely on the same tools to block access to political speech,’ he said.

This ‘domino effect’ of Western regulation being adopted by countries further east is already observable, Akdeniz said, citing Kazakhstan as well as Turkey, where authorities are banning some 15,000 websites.

The study showed that 20 mostly eastern European and central Asian countries prohibit so-called extreme speech on the internet, aiming to prevent criticism of the state.

Akdeniz also warned against measures adopted by France and planned in Britain, which deny any internet access for users who have been found to violate copyright rules.

‘The study wanted to highlight at an early stage that what the UK and France are doing is not necessarily right …, before other OSCE participating states start to use this,’ he said.

OSCE media freedom official to present report on Internet content regulation – Representative on Freedom of the Media

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

OSCE media freedom official to present report on Internet content regulation – Representative on Freedom of the Media

VIENNA, 6 July 2011 – Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, will hold a news conference on Friday, 8 July, to present a new study on government efforts to regulate the Internet in the OSCE area.

The study, commissioned by Mijatović’s office, indicates that OSCE participating States are increasingly regulating content on the Internet. It argues that access to the Internet is a basic prerequisite for exercising the right to freedom of expression and the right to impart and receive information, and offers recommendations designed to maintain freedom of expression and the media on the Internet.

The OSCE 56 OSCE participating States created the Representative on Freedom of the Media institution in December 1997 to observe media freedom related developments in the OSCE region and to warn of violations of freedom of expression.

Journalists are invited to a news conference with the Representative and the author of the study, Yaman Akdeniz, a Professor of Law at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Faculty of Law, at 11 a.m. on Friday, 8 July, in room 201 of the Hofburg Congress Centre.

(Via .)

Bianet: Summit on Controversial Internet Filter System

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Bianet: Summit on Controversial Internet Filter Systemt

On 25 May, the Internet Committee organizes a meeting with non-governmental organizations, public representatives and experts to discuss the much disputed internet filter system. The application is going to be enforced on 22 August.

Ekin KARACA – ekin@bianet.org
Istanbul – BİA News Center
25 May 2011, Wednesday

The Prime Ministry Telecommunication Association (BTK) invited non-governmental organizations, public representatives and experts to a meeting to discuss the controversial internet filter. The much disputed internet filter application is anticipated to be enforced on 22 August.

The meeting is organized by the Internet Committee and takes place at the campus of Bilgi University in Istanbul today (25 May). The method and the basics of the decision taken by the BTK will be discussed as well as the contents of the package. A report including all opinions will be forwarded to the participants subsequently.
‘A meeting with delay’

Assoc. Prof. Yaman Akdeniz, lecturer at the Bilgi University Faculty of Law, is going to attend the meeting as well. He criticized that this kind of summit should have been held before 22 February, i.e. before the BTK took its final decision.

‘This meeting comes very late. Yet, it is still important to hear the opinions of the participants’.

‘When the invitation reached me, I realized that there were only very few participants who are against the filer application. Thereupon, I send a list of 22 names to the Internet Committee. Serhat Özeren as Head of the Committee accepted my request. I think today’s discussion will be more fruitful that way’.
‘I think the filter decision will be cancelled’

‘In my opinion, the filter decision taken by the BTK will be cancelled. All these [applications] are indicators for ’stepping backwards’. Besides, the trial opened by bianet is pending at the Council of State; the legal struggle is being continued’.

‘Postponing the decision is not satisfactory. We will only achieve the result we want if the BTK cancelled this decision and takes a new one. The meeting is important in this aspect’, Akdeniz indicated.

‘If the BTK does not annul this decision, the Council of State will stop the execution in my opinion. The cancellation of the decision would follow accordingly’.
‘Final decision only after elections’

‘The BTK has to submit its defence to the Council of State until coming Monday (30 May) in the scope of the case before the Council of State to stop the enforcement. I do when the Council of State will take a decision after that. Yet, I think this will be left till after the elections’, Akdeniz emphasized.

‘From my point of view, one reason for his hastily organized meeting is to narrow the period of time at the Council of State. The BTK will either defend their decision in writing or they will cancel it and the Council of State will say that they drop procedures’.

‘I think that the social criticism from within the public and the trial at the Council of State have their affects on the steps backwards’.
‘Our protest continues’

‘Considering the worst case scenario, the meeting would have no positive outcome and the Council of State would give a negative reply. In that case, this issue will go as far as to the European Court of Human Rights’.

‘Should the Council of State decide in our favour, we would go to celebrate in the streets. If not, our protest is going to continue. Enforcing this application that is not being supported by the society is very bad. Besides, everyone can install his or her own filter system on the computer. There is no social obligation that requires anybody to do so’. (EKN/VK)

Freedom House: Freedom House Study Finds Mounting Threats to Internet Freedom

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Freedom House: Freedom House Study Finds Mounting Threats to Internet Freedom

Washington – April 18, 2011

Cyberattacks, politically motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure are among the diverse and growing threats to internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media,a new study released today by Freedom House.

These encroachments on internet freedom come at a time of explosive growth in the number of internet users worldwide, which has doubled over the past five years. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.

‘These detailed findings clearly show that internet freedom cannot be taken for granted,’ said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. ‘Nondemocratic regimes are devoting more attention and resources to censorship and other forms of interference with online expression.’
Freedom on the Net 2011,which identifies key trends in internet freedom in 37 countries, follows a pilot edition that was released in 2009. Freedom on the Net evaluates each country based on barriers to access, limitations on content, and violations of users’ rights.

The study found that Estonia had the greatest degree of internet freedom among the countries examined, while the United States ranked second. Iran received the lowest score in the analysis. Eleven other countries received a ranking of Not Free, including Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. A total of 9 of the 15 countries in the original pilot study registered declines over the past two years. Conditions in at least half of the newly added countries similarly indicated a negative trajectory. Crackdowns on bloggers, increased censorship, and targeted cyberattacks often coincided with broader political turmoil, including controversial elections.

Countries at Risk:As part of its analysis, Freedom House identified a number of important countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming 12 months: Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Key Trends

* Explosion in social-media use met with censorship:In response to the growing popularity of internet-based applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, many governments have started targeting the new platforms as part of their censorship strategies. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on these services or their equivalents.

* Bloggers and ordinary users face arrest: Bloggers, online journalists, and human rights activists, as well as ordinary people, increasingly face arrest and imprisonment for their online writings. In 23 of the 37 countries, including several democratic states, at least one blogger or internet user was detained because of online communications.

* Cyberattacks against regime critics intensifying: Governments and their sympathizers are increasingly using technical attacks to disrupt activists’ online networks, eavesdrop on their communications, and cripple their websites. Such attacks were reported in at least 12 of the 37 countries covered.

* Politically motivated censorship and content manipulation growing: A total of 15 of the 37 countries examined were found to engage in substantial online blocking of politically relevant content. In these countries, website blocks are not sporadic, but rather the result of an apparent national policy to restrict users’ access to information, including the websites of independent news outlets and human rights groups.

* Governments exploit centralized internet infrastructure to limit access: Centralized government control over a country’s connection to international internet traffic poses a significant threat to free online expression, particularly at times of political turmoil. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities used their control over infrastructure to limit widespread access to politically and socially controversial content, and in extreme cases, cut off access to the internet entirely.

‘The ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world,’ said Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report. ‘A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media,’ Kelly added.

Other Important Country Findings:

* China: TheChinese government boasts the world’s most sophisticated system of internet controls, and its approach has become even more restrictive in recent years. Blocks on Facebook and Twitter have become permanent, while domestic alternatives to these applications have risen in popularity despite being forced to censor their users. The authorities imposed a months-long shutdown of internet access in the western region of Xinjiang during the report’s coverage period, and at least 70 people were in jail for internet-related reasons as of 2010.

* Iran: Since the protests that followed the flawed presidential election of June 12, 2009, the Iranian authorities have waged a fierce campaign against internet freedom, including deliberately slowing internet speeds at critical times and using hacking to disable opposition websites. An increasing number of bloggers have been threatened, arrested, tortured, or kept in solitary confinement, and at least one died in prison.

* Pakistan: In recent years—under both military rule and an ostensibly democratic civilian government—the authorities have adopted various measures to exert some control over the internet and the sharing of information online. In mid-2010, a new Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites was established to identify sites for blocking based on vaguely defined offenses against the state or religion.

* United States: Access to the internet in the United States remains open and fairly free compared with the rest of the world. Users face very few restrictions on their ability to access and publish content online, and courts have consistently held that prohibitions against government regulation of speech apply to material published on the internet. However, the United States lags behind many major industrialized countries in terms of broadband penetration and connection speeds, and the government’s surveillance powers are cause for some concern.

The full report can be viewed here as a PDF file.

Bianet: Turkey Inquired about Internet Censorship

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Bianet: Turkey Inquired about Internet Censorship

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Turkey Inquired about Internet Censorship

The European Court of Human Rights examines two applications from Turkey regarding cases of internet censorship in 2009. Turkish authorities were allowed time till 9 June to submit a response. Internet expert Akdeniz emphasized the international importance of the decision.

Istanbul – BİA News Center
10 March 2011, Thursday

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is examining the application against internet censorship filed by Turkish nationals Ahmet Yıldırım and Yaman Akdeniz. The international court expects an item of written comment from Turkey until 9 June.

According to a written statement published by the Cyber-Rights.org.tr news site on 7 March, the ECHR merged the files regarding the access ban to Google sites and to LastFM.com on 31 January. The restrictive decision (No. 2009/337) on the Google services was given by the 2nd Magistrate Criminal Court of Denizli (western Turkey) on 23 June 2009. Access to the music sharing site LastFm.com was banned by the Beyoğlu (Istanbul) Public Chief Prosecution on 26 June 2009 (decision no. 2009/45).

On 16 February, the ECHR posted the particularities of both applications on its website together with a list of questions forwarded to the Turkish authorities.

The court allowed time till 9 June for Turkey to respond to the questions. Cyper-Rights.org.tr reported that the court in Strasbourg announced 24 April as the deadline for non-governmental organizations that applied for co-plaintiff status to submit their point of view.
Akdeniz: Important decision for all members of the Council of Europe

Assoc. Prof. Yaman Akdeniz commented the issue on behalf of the website as follows:

‘The Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu emphasized several times the decision ‘not to make a defence regarding trials (at the ECHR) on freedom of thought’. However, only in June 2011 we will see whether this political decision is also valid for applications filed to the ECHR’.

‘The Strasbourg Court examines [the applications related to] internet censorship. These two applications carry importance not only for Turkey but for all member states of the Council of Europe’, Akdeniz indicated. (EÇ/VK)

European court asks Turkey to explain its Internet bans

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Hurriyet Daily News: European court asks Turkey to explain its Internet bans

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
ERISA DAUTAJ ŞENERDEM
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

tdn_echr.jpg

A European court has asked Turkish authorities to explain their use of the country’s law to ban websites, responding to applications by two complainants who say the bans violate their right to freedom of expression.

‘Users of different websites are being punished because others infringe legal provisions,’ said complainant Yaman Akdeniz, a cyber-rights activist and a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University. He applied to the European Court of Human Rights on April 6, arguing that the Turkish government’s ban on the website Lastfm.com.tr violated his rights.

The decision to consider the case is a landmark one, Akdeniz said, explaining that it was the first time the court had taken up a complaint related to Internet bans.

‘The court’s final decision will set an important precedent for all Council of Europe member countries,’ Akdeniz told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.

Responding to the applications by Akdeniz and another Turkish complainant, the European court issued a request last month to Turkish authorities, asking them to answer by June 9, three questions of a general nature about the use of Turkish law to ban certain websites.

‘The court asked Turkish authorities for explanations regarding the application of legal provisions to ban websites,’ Akdeniz told the Daily News.

Fellow complainant Ahmet Yıldırım, a 28-year-old doctoral student at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, applied to the European court Jan. 12, 2010, saying his personal website on Google Sites, which he used to publish his academic work, had been banned by Turkey. Both Akdeniz and Yıldırım said they appealed to the European court after having exhausted all domestic legal avenues.

Both applications were made before Turkish authorities’ recent ban of the popular blogging platform Blogger. The website, a property of Google Inc., was blocked in response to a complaint by the satellite television provider Digiturk about bloggers illegally posting football matches broadcast on Digiturk’s Lig TV channel.

The decision to ban Lastfm also involved a rights dispute; authorities used Turkish Law No. 5846 on artistic and intellectual works to issue the ban, arguing that the site had been used to illegally publish artistic works to which the user did not own the rights.

According to Akdeniz, who initiated the Lastfm-related case, authorities should identify and punish individuals who break the law, rather than punishing all Internet users by issuing blanket bans on websites.

Lastfm was banned in Turkey on Sept. 19, 2009, following a lawsuit brought to court by the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society, or MÜ-YAP.

In his complaint related to Google Sites, Yıldırım argued that Turkish authorities sought to ban access to the website for breaching provisions of Turkish Law No. 5651, on the regulation of publications and copyright infringements on the Internet. He said this violates his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Turkey’s controversial Internet bans have been a subject of much debate by experts as well as by millions of Turkish Internet users who have lost access to popular sites. Experts have criticized the implementation of Law No. 5651 and related laws to ban websites, saying that those who break laws must be tracked down and punished for their actions, rather than making all Turkish internet users pay the price.

Questions from the European court

The first question posed to Turkish authorities by the European court was related to Akdeniz’s application. ‘As a user, can Mr. Akdeniz claim to be a victim of an infringement to rights guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention?’ it asked.

Another question dealt with whether the complainants’ freedom of expression had been infringed upon, particularly their right to receive or communicate information or ideas according to Article 10, Paragraph 2 of the Convention. The European court also asked Turkish authorities whether Turkish law permitted it to put an end to unjustified infringements on freedom of expression, and whether it had responded to the demands of Article 13 of the Convention.