‘At present, Turkey is still a wonderful country for tourists, but it is becoming an increasingly difficult place for its citizens. You wouldn’t want to be a writer, journalist, translator, publisher, human rights activist, democrat, thinking person, or anyone who seeks justice in “my!” country,’ – Tarik Gunersel, president of PEN Turkey, a global human rights and literary organization, now under investigation for ‘insulting the state’.
Freedom of expression on the internet in Turkey has been under attack since 2007, with an increasingly large number of websites being blocked. Most blocked content has involved Kurdish nationalism (including news regarding the PKK separatist movement), pornography, homosexuality, criticism of Islam, and criticism of modern Turkey’s founding father, Kemal Atatürk.
Many keywords are banned on pornographic grounds from search results which are used in normal conversations, including Pic, Pregnant, Animals, Skirt, Free and sister-in-law. More than 6000 websites have been blocked by the censors and the courts, including YouTube and parts of Google (now re-instated), but things are set to get even worse
Revised proposal to Law 5651
First passed in 2007, Law 5651 is already regarded by free speech advocates as problematic, as it allows websites to be blocked Turkey’s internet regulator, the High Council for Telcomunications (TIB) based on complains by individuals who feel that their rights have been violated, allowing them to request that the site or its host remove the incriminated content. Decisions made by TIB are arbitrary, not subject to appeal, and as of 26 January 2014 have been used to block 40,482 websites.
Recent accusations by the press of government corruption have led to increased harassment of journalists, and are likely a prime motive for amending Law 5651, which classifies ‘hate speech’ under the internet ban, and compels courts to respond to internet-based ‘right violations complaints’ within 24 hours without a regular trial (up until now citizens claiming their privacy had been violated had to contact the website administrators first, and then wait for 2 days until they could go to court).
If websites do not remove content requested by the courts within 4 hours they will be fined and the content blocked by TIB within 72 hours, and all ISPs will be required to join a union charged with ensuring that the censorship measures are carried out. Not only is this likely to lead to a high degree of self-censorship, but because what constitutes ‘hate speech’ has not been defined, sentences are likely to be highly subjective.
The new changes to Law 5651 have met been with opposition from a wide range of organizations, such the Turkish Pirate Party and Alternative Informatics Association, academics, journalists and the business organization TÜSİAD. Serhat Koç a telecommunications lawyer and spokesman for the Pirate Party stated that,
‘If the draft [bill is] implemented, life will harder for internet users in Turkey. Censorship of citizen journalism, scientific research and social media will be routine.’
Fortunately internet users in Turkey can use VPN services (based outside of Turkey) to evade censorship restrictions, but it is very sad that such measures are necessary.