Zaman: Error: Court halts Internet freedom in Turkey

Error: Court halts Internet freedom in Turkey: “Error: Court halts Internet freedom in Turkey
The latest in a series of bans on popular Web sites has spurred many to question the future of Internet freedom in Turkey. Turkish Internet users trying to access the popular blog-hosting service get an error message saying that access to the site has been blocked by a court decision, without stating the court ruling or explaining why the service has been banned.”

Heavily criticized by several associations and activists advocating freedom of speech and expression, the ban has raised questions as to where Internet freedom in Turkey is headed.

Internet Technologies Association (İTD) President Mustafa Akgül described the latest ban as “black humor,” saying it censors people’s right to access Internet resources in Turkey. “This ban demonstrates that Turkey has not fully comprehended what the Internet is. There is still a serious taboo on Internet freedom. Bans on Web sites restrict people’s right to access Internet resources, and therefore violate the Constitution,” he stated.

More than 1,100 Web sites have been blocked since November 2007 in Turkey. Web sites are most often banned on the grounds that they insult the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, contain vulgarity, enable gambling or promote suicide. Many sites have also been banned for crimes covered under the Internet Security Law, but a number of sites are banned for no apparent reason.

“Turkish courts block access to Web sites without warning their management about problematic content in advance. Why do they refrain from cooperating with these sites to remove their problematic content? Further-more, it is possible to ban access to certain content instead of banning the whole Web site, but it necessitates some investment. Why does Turkey avoid doing this? This all proves that we still haven’t fully understood what the Internet is for,” Akgül went on to say.

Voices have grown louder against restrictions on Internet freedom, particularly following a ban on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube. YouTube was banned by a controversial court decision in May 2008 for broadcasting videos deemed insulting to Atatürk and the concept of Turkishness, a sensitive issue in Turkey.

Other countries known to frequently ban Web sites include China, Iran, Armenia, Tunisia, Indonesia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Despite widespread discontent with the ban and the emergence of alternate methods to access the site, the YouTube ban still remains in place in Turkey.

Another Turkish Internet association, the Whole Internet Association (TİD), slammed restrictions on media freedom in the country with a statement posted on its Web site.

“Black clouds hang over the Internet in Turkey. Unable to keep in step with changes, bureaucracy and certain units in the judiciary are making regulations that prevent the development of Turkish Internet. … These regulations conflict with freedom of speech, individual rights and freedoms and the image of a country which wishes to become a part of the modern world and join the European Union,” reads the statement titled “Protect Your Internet. Internet is Life.”

Turkey is hoping to start soon on two chapters of EU reform work, which deal with media and society. But many say Europe will not be pleased with Turkish Internet regulations, which have been tightened further recently with a law that gives permission to the country’s Telecommunications Directorate to close down Web sites based on complaints by individual users.

Young Civilians, a Turkish nongovernmental organization known for its use of sarcasm in protests, is making preparations for a mass reaction against the frequent bans on Web sites.

“We will react against these bans with a mass movement to show that Turkey will not gain anything from making such bans instead of statements or declarations,” said a representative from the organization.

Radikal columnist Oral Çalışlar touched on restrictions on Internet freedom in yesterday’s column, stressing that blocking access to Web sites abases Turkey.

“The world’s largest blog-hosting service has been suspended in Turkey by a court decision. We don’t even know when the suspension will end. I protest this ban, saying such decisions abase Turkey in the eyes of the rest of the world and leave us in shame. I am afraid our dreams will even be censored soon,” he wrote.

Çalışlar also stated that bans on Web sites should not be deemed extraordinary occurrence in a country where more than 20 political parties have been shut down for a reason or another.

“In a country where the Constitutional Court has disbanded more than 20 parties, a court in [the southeastern province of] Diyarbakır may naturally block access to a blog-hosting service,” he said.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has closed down 24 political parties since its establishment in 1962. Most of these decisions were based on constitutional provisions regarding the protection of the integrity of the state and the principles of secularism.

Turkey was rattled by closure cases filed against the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). The nation heaved a sigh of relief when the top court announced in late July that it would not shut down the AK Party. The court has not made a decision in the case against the DTP, and many say the closure of this party would deal a serious blow to Turkish democracy.

The ban has saddened its frequent visitors, as well, who have made a habit of saving priceless memories in the Web site. İpek Ender, one of the site’s many daily visitors, said she was deeply disappointed to hear about the ban as it means, in a sense, losing almost every invaluable memory about her little daughter.

“I have been saving the pictures and videos of my little daughter in my personal blog since the day she was born. I thought I could keep every single thing I experienced as my daughter grew up in this blog and that I could also enable my friends and relatives to follow her development from this page. However, I learned with great disappointment that we would no longer have access to my blog. I strongly denounce the fact that the prohibitory mindset has finally expanded its scope to innocent personal spheres and want an end to this mindset that is incompatible with modern Turkey,” she stated.

Another visitor, Özlem Arslan, criticized the court’s decision to block access to the Web site and said the problem could have instead been solved by banning the content deemed problematic.

“Why didn’t they just block access to unwanted content? I think such bans are ridiculous. They threaten people’s freedoms. I keep photos and memories about my young daughter in my blog and make new friends around the world through the site. We discuss ways to overcome difficulties we encounter when bringing up our children. It is embarrassing to think that we will have no access to our blog for a while,” she remarked.

27 October 2008, Monday

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