Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Closer Look at Diminishing Freedom on the Internet

From Gareth Jenkins at EDM:
The Turkish authorities have long sought to block Internet users in Turkey from accessing websites associated with militant groups that espouse violence, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Over the last 18 months, however, there has been a rapid rise in the censorship of websites, purely because they contain material that expresses values or opinions deemed unsuitable for the Turkish public.

Until May 2007, there was no legal framework in Turkey specifically designed to regulate the content of Internet websites. In practice, the judicial system tended to apply the same laws that were used to regulate traditional media outlets such as newspapers and television channels. On May 4, 2007, however, the Turkish parliament passed Law No. 5651, which was specifically designed to regulate Internet content and prevent websites from being used for crimes such as “encouraging suicide,” “the sexual exploitation of children,” “facilitating the use of narcotics,” “obscenity,” “prostitution,” and “gambling” (Law No. 5651 of May 4, 2007, published in the Official Gazette No. 26530 of May 23, 2007). The law also provided for the prevention of access to websites that violated other Turkish laws, such as anti-terrorism legislation or the law that forbids insulting the memory of the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Law No. 5816 of July 25, 1951, published in the Official Gazette No. 7872 of July 31, 1951). In addition, under Article 24 of the Turkish Civil Code (Turkish Ministry of Justice website,, individuals can apply for access to be blocked to a website that they feel is “infringing on their personal rights.”

In the case of content that is deemed to be obscene or to exploit children sexually, Law No. 5651 empowers the state-run Telecommunications Board to prevent access to the website without recourse to a court decision. For most other offences, a court ruling is required. Since November 2007, members of the public have been able to notify the Telecommunications Board of what they believe is inappropriate content via a designated telephone number and website.

Under Turkish law, the decision to block access to a website is made by the court or by the Telecommunications Board on its own. According to figures released by Tayfun Acarer, the head of the Telecommunications Board, access has been prevented to a total of 1,112 websites since November 23, 2007, with 251 of them blocked by a court ruling and 861 by a decision of the Telecommunications Board itself. The owners of the websites in question do not need to be informed and invariably only learn that their website has even come under suspicion once access to it from inside Turkey has been blocked (Radikal, October 2, Milliyet, October 3).

Since early May, Internet users in Turkey have been prevented from accessing the popular video-sharing website YouTube, after Greek nationalist youths used the site to post some amateurish videos mocking Ataturk (Ankara First Petty Crimes Court, Decision No 2008/402 of May 5). Websites banned for “obscenity” range from genuine hardcore pornographic sites to the photographs link on, a website set up by a U.S. group that annually bares their buttocks at passing Amtrak trains (Ankara Ninth Petty Crimes Court, Decision No 2008/140 of February 4).

. . . .

There are also increasing signs that Internet censorship is not being used to “protect” Turkish citizens but to try to enforce a particular worldview or political opinion.
For full analysis, click here.

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