Intense debate has raged around several plans to control the Internet, ranging from an outrageous list of banned keywords to a mandatory centralized filtering system that ended up being optional. Despite relentless pressure, netizens have been mobilizing against the implementation of backdoor censorship on the Web.
Read in Turkish / Türkçe
As of February 10, 2012, the website engelliweb.com had tallied 15,596 sites suspended by the authorities, either by court order, or by decision of Turkey’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) – a number double what it was last year (see the Turkey chapter of the 2011 “Enemies of the Internet” report). Most of these are betting, pornographic, or pedophile content websites.
However, some 15 supposedly pro-Kurd news websites were banned by court order in 2011, including Firat News (new URL: www.firatnews.ws), gundem-online.net and welat.org. Among the topics considered taboo and therefore censored are Atatürk and the minorities’ (notably Kurd) issue. The filtering of the Blogger platform was lifted on March 14, 2011 after two weeks of blocking and strong mobilizations both on and offline.
Net censorship and the legal status of the debate
Controversy over the 5651 Law has abated. Its main focus has been optional filtering and a list of banned keywords.
In April 2011, the BTK forwarded to web-hosting companies and Internet service providers a list of 138 keywords to be banned from Turkish domain names as part of the fight against pornography. Already laughable because it included words like “skirt” (etek), “sister-in-law” (baldiz) and “animals” (hayvan), this list posed serious Internet information access problems: since it prohibited the words “free” and “pic,” it may have eliminated from the Turkish Net countless references to freedoms and the latest news photos. When the media began covering this issue, the BTK stated that the list had been cited within the context of an internal communication urging state bodies responsible for suppressing online content to be on the alert. For now, it would appear that no further action has been taken regarding this list.
The new centralized filtering system “for the safe use of the Internet” launched by Turkey’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) on November 22, has also raised strong reactions both in the country and abroad. Its introduction, initially planned for August 22, 2011, was postponed three months so it could be submitted to public consultation. The initial project required Internet users to install a filtering software on their computers in order to protect them (particularly minors), from any “objectionable” content. Since then, plans have been changed and the installation is no longer required. The number of filtering options has also been reduced from four to two: “family” and “child.” Pornographic sites previously blocked by court order, like other “suspect” portals, will now be automatically filtered for netizens who have adopted the system, according to an as yet unclear procedure, about which Reporters Without Borders has requested more information. As of early December 2011, only 22,000 of the country’s 11.5 million Internet users had signed up for it.
On November 4, a complaint was filed with the Turkish State Council to request the elimination of the system, which, although optional, remains a threat to freedom. Tests conducted by Reporters Without Borders have shown that certain websites were abusively blocked, such as those of evolutionist Richard Dawkins (richarddawkins.net) and of Yasam Radyo (“Radio Life,” which broadcasts cultural programs on minorities). The “child” option does not provide access to Youtube or Facebook, and these social networks are only accessible under the “family” option if the user requests it. The filtering solution is inappropriate and a threat to online freedom of expression as the European Union Court of Justice recently affirmed, since it increases overblocking risks. The decision as to what is, or is not, “objectionable” must be left to families, not to the State.
Status of lawsuits against Internet website contributors
Online journalist Baris Yarkadas, sued for a “personal insult" by Nur Birgen, Chair of the Institute for Forensic Medicine’s Third Specialization Board, was discharged in September 2011. His legal troubles are not over, however, since a deputy is currently suing him for damages for having offended him during a televised debate.
Halil Savda, administrator of the website for pacifists and conscientious objectors www.savaskarsitlari.org, was sentenced to five months in jail at the end of February because of his criticism of the army.
A writer for the eksisozluk (Eksi Sözlük, or “sour dictionary”) website was charged with “contempt for religious values’’ for writing an article on August 10, 2011, entitled “Stupidity of religion.” The lawsuit brought against Forensics Medicine expert and Chair of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation Sebnem Korur Fincanci and the editor of the taraf.com.tr (Camps) website, Adnan Demir, will resume on April 10.
Journalist Serdar Tuncer filed a complaint against a Twitter user and its 200,000 subscribers on the grounds that the owner of the satirical account @allah (cc), and his readers, mocked Islam and other religions and humiliated believers.
Online mobilization continues and international pressures show results
Demonstrations against online censorship were held on May 15, 2011 in 31 Turkish cities. Several sites that had supported the anti-censorship protests sustained cyberattacks. The magnitude of the mobilization, as well as the reactions of the OSCE and the European Union, compelled the authorities to make certain concessions (see above).
The most impressive online initiatives were the website ‘Hands Off My Internet”, which made Internet users aware of the risks associated with the filtering system and the Senin Yüzünden ("Because of You") site, which invited netizens to post photos of blindfolded people.