March 27, 2014 - Updated on January 20, 2016

YouTube blocked as cyber-censorship mounts in run-up to election

The High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) blocked YouTube in Turkey today, applying a decision adopted by the authorities earlier in the day “as a preventive measure” without referring to the courts.

YouTube’s censorship came shortly after an audio recording was posted on the site in which the (now former) foreign minister, the head of the MIT intelligence agency and other senior officials can reportedly be heard discussing the possibility of a Turkish military operation in Syria.

It was the latest in a series of confidential recordings to be posted on social networks in recent weeks, embarrassing the government.

“Less that a week after Twitter was blocked, it is now YouTube’s turn to be the victim of political censorship that is intensifying day by day in the run-up to Sunday’s municipal elections,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Recent changes to the Internet law have unfortunately provided the government with all the necessary legal means to do this. It is shocking that we must again point out the hugely disproportionate nature of such measures and the illegitimacy of using administrative bodies to apply them. We urge the TIB to lift the blocking of Twitter and YouTube without delay.”

The TIB’s order was immediately implemented by Internet Service Providers and 3G mobile Internet operators. A spokesman for Google, YouTube’s owner, told Reporters Without Borders: “There is no technical problem at our end.” Internet users who modify their DNS settings or use VPNs are the only ones in Turkey who can now access YouTube.

YouTube was previously censored in Turkey from 2008 to 2010 because of videos deemed to have “besmirched the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” the former military officer who founded the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Court-ordered lifting of Twitter blocking still not effective

In response to a petition by the Ankara bar association and the Turkish Union of Bar Associations (TBB), an Ankara administrative court yesterday ordered that the blocking of Twitter should be lifted on the grounds that it was “contrary to the rule of law.”

Nonetheless, Twitter continues to be completely inaccessible in Turkey. The recent amendments to the Internet law allow the authorities to block offending websites within hours, but give the TIB 30 days to unblock them.

Twitter has appealed against the blocking of its site. According to the company, it was never notified of two court decisions that were given as grounds for the blocking. These decisions concerned two Twitter accounts that the company would have agreed to close if it had been asked.

The company is challenging a third court decision, concerning the @oyyokhisiza (Don’t vote for the thief) account, which targets transport minister Binali Yildirim. Despite temporarily making the account inaccessible in Turkey, Twitter said it was worried by the request, adding: “Political content, especially corruption allegations, are of great importance.”

Twitter’s appeal was rejected today by an Istanbul magistrates court, which nonetheless transferred it to a criminal court for analysis.

Read as well: "Toxic climate for media a week ahead of elections" (22.03.2014)