Sunday, January 24, 2010

There's Still No Free Speech In Turkey, and It's Still a Bad Thing . . .

Adnan Oktar, the prominent social conservative and creationist, has filed multiple court cases to shit down websites, including, most famously, that of Richard Dawkins.

The Turkish government's laws allowing for Internet censorship are despised by many across a wide spectrum of society. Unlike Turkey's many speech codes, including the infamous Article 301, which rarely draw much public scorn other than from human rights groups, Internet censorship via IP-blocking of sites deemed inappropriate is seen as a particularly troublesome violation of freedom. Many Turks often have varying opinions on what speech should be banned -- yours, not mine; and speech that seems, for whatever reason, unduly insulting (and, of course, the idea of what is "insulting" varies). Yet, Internet laws are the most widely condemened state imposed limits on freedom of expression.

The lack of freedom to surf has also drawn quite a great deal of condemnation from human rights monitors. Monday involved yet another, this last emanating from from Milos Haraszti, the OSCE's media freedom monitor. According to Haraszti, over 3,700 websites have been blocked for "arbitrary and political reasons." In 2008, head of the Telecommunications Board Tayfun Aracer put the number of sites banned since November 23, 2007, at 1,112. Haraszti called on Turkey to reform its Internet law, which was passed as Law No. 5651 in May 2007. The law directs the state-run Telecommunications Board to block access to websites that are obscene, encourage suicide, or promote or facilitate prostition, gambling, the use of narcotics, and the sexual exploitation of children.

While these reasons might seem relatively narrow in scope, the law also directs the Board to block sites that violate other Turkish laws, including the broadly applied anti-terrorism law and Turkey's speech codes (in the Penal Code), e.g. insulting the Turkish nation, the Turkish republic, or Turkish governmnent/state institutions (Article 301), inciting hatred or hostility among the population (Article 216), slander (Article 267), influencing the judiciary during an ongoing court case (Article 277), influencing an ongoing investigation (Article 285), preventing a fair trial (Article 288), discouraging indivduals to serve in the military (Article 318), and engaging in acts that run counter to fundamental national interests (Article 305). In November 2007, the state initiated a telephone hotline and website to report offenses

Additionally, under Article 24 on the Civil Code, individuals can apply for access to be blocked to a website they think is "an infringement on their personal rights." This had led numerous indviduals, from religious conservatives like Adnan Oktar, the anti-Darwin cult figure, to nationalists, like members of the Ataturkist Thought Association, to apply to courts to shut down sites on any number of grounds. Courts have the right to order the Telecommunications Board to block access to a website during an investigation or trial following the receipt of a complaint.

The European Union called on Turkey in it 2009 progress report to amend the Internet law, and numerous cases have begun to appear before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). A party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey's routine practice of proscribing websites deemed offensive to any number of parties has only increased the level of criticism the government receives at home and abroad, as well as injured its position in the EU accession process. Many of the civil society projects in Turkey receiving EU funding are related to the freedom of expression. For an account of the Internet restrictions, see Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report.

Sites that have been banned include YouTube, GoogleGroups, WordPress, and Blogspot (which you are on now). For more on the Internet law, see Google's efforts to navigate Turkey's vast array of speech codes (a near Herculean task) (Dec. 8, 2008), as well as this analysis from Gareth Jenkins (Oct. 4, 2008). See also this post authored in 2008 when Turkey moved to amend Article 301, though proesecutions continue and the change was largely regarded as cosmetic.

Also recommended in CyberRights, a site setup by activists Kerem Altıparmak and Yaman Akdeniz to publicize violations of Internet freedom.

The YouTube ban was taken to the ECHR this past December. From Bianet:
The Internet Technology Association (INETD) applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), objecting to the decision to block in Turkey. Access has been banned to the global video sharing site for 19 months now since 5 May 2008.

INETD president Mustafa Akgül announced that INETD filed the complaint "on behalf of the ones harmed by the ban and on behalf of the entire country". Akgül claimed that the ban is "against the law and contrary to the public interest".
Akgul's petition alleges violations of the right to free expression, the right to a fair trial, and the right to assembly and association.

UPDATE I (1/27) -- Left out of the litany of speech-related offenses in Turkey's Penal Code is Article 125, which makes it illegal to insult the honor and dignity of someone. Article 125 was used as the basis of the criminal complaint against Yeni Asya cartoonist Ibrahim Ozdabak when he seemingly depicted Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as a hooting owl during the closure case against the AKP in 2008.

UPDATE II (2/20) -- The Intitative Against Crime of Thought has published its annual report, "Freedom of Thought 2009" (in Turkish). The report, in book form, documents 36 cases of imprisoned journalists, as well as prominent and not-so-prominent cases of individuals who fell scrutiny to Turkey's many codes hindering freedom of expression in Turkey, including those in the Turkish Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Law. The review includes cases against Osman Baydemir, Aysel Tuğluk, Leyla Zana, Ragıp Zarakolu, Nedim Şener, Nedim Gürsel, Erol Karaaslan, Ahmet Karayay, İbrahim Kaboğlu, Baskın Oran, as well as cases of censorship and the DTP closure clase.

No comments: