Turkey13 May 2008
Authorities urged to amend restrictive laws after YouTube blocked for third time in two months
Reporters Without Borders is astonished that access to the video-sharing website YouTube has again been blocked again in Turkey since 5 May as a result of court orders issued by Ankara magistrate courts on 24 and 30 April. The grounds for blocking the website were not given in either case.
“We call on the authorities to give the reasons for these orders,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This is the third time in less than two months that YouTube has been blocked in Turkey. The authorities do not need to block an entire website just because of a few videos they consider ‘shocking.’ Doing this is an abuse, as YouTube is able to stop the distribution of offending videos in any given country.”
Law 5651 on “the organisation of online publications and the fight against crime committed by means of such publications,” in effect since November 2007, enables a prosecutor to get a website banned within 24 hours if its content is deemed likely to incite suicide, paedophilia, drug use, obscenity, prostitution or offend the memory of Atatürk, the Turkish republic’s founder.
“This law opens the door to too many abuses,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Its collateral damage has included the blocking of entire sites such as YouTube, Indymedia Istanbul and WordPress. We urge the authorities to amend Law 5621 so that people can express themselves freely on the Internet again. Turkey has a legislative arsenal that places too many restrictions on freedom of expression.”
The Indymedia Istanbul website (http://istanbul.indymedia.org) has been inaccessible within Turkey since 21 March. The site’s staff are continuing to post articles at another web address and describe the blockage as just “an attempt at censorship.” The authorities “still have not understood that censorship is technically impossible on the Internet,” they said. WordPress, one of the most popular blog platforms in the world, was only recently unblocked after being accessible since August 2007.
Other participative websites are also blocked. The photo-sharing site Slide has been inaccessible since 25 March as a result of a court’s decision in Civril (southwest of Ankara) because of “photos and articles considered insulting to Atatürk.” Google Groups, Google’s discussion site, has been inaccessible since 10 April as a result of an action brought by religious leader Adnan Oktar claiming he had been defamed in comments posted on the site.
Kurdish media websites have also been targeted. The website of Gündem, a daily newspaper, has been inaccessible since 1 April as a result a decision by a court of assizes in Ankara. The site of the Firat News Agency (ANF) has been blocked since 11 February. In these two cases, the grounds are “propaganda” in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Neither media was told of the decision or given a chance to defend itself.
Freedom of expression in Turkey is often limited by criminal code provisions that punish threats to fundamental national interests (article 305), inciting hatred, hostility or humiliation (article 216), attacking the memory of Atatürk (Law 5816 of 25 July 1951) or discouraging the population from doing military service (article 318).
The Turkish parliament amended article 301 of the criminal code on 30 April, replacing “insulting Turkish identity” by “insulting the Turkish nation.” But this still leaves judges a great deal of scope to convict anyone who publicly raises such sensitive issues as the Armenian genocide or the Kurdish issue. Most article 301 cases will now be heard before magistrate courts instead of criminal courts. Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel prize-winning novelist, and Hrant Dink, a journalist of Armenian origin who was murdered by ultra-nationalists in Istanbul in January 2007, were both prosecuted under article 301.
Anti-terrorism Law 3713 also punishes websites that post “the propaganda of a terrorist organisation” or “the press releases of such organisations.”