Turkish authorities on Saturday blocked access to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, an internet monitoring group said. It is the latest in what government critics contend is a crackdown on free speech on the internet. The action follows the government’s previous blocking of Twitter and Facebook, usually after important or controversial events such as militant attacks. Typically, national security is proffered as the reason for the bans, according to internet watchdog Turkey Blocks.
It is thought by some that this latest move by the Turkish government is designed to quell dissent over the recent referendum, in which President Erdogan sought to consolidate, and indeed increase, his powers. Opposition groups maintain there were widespread irregularities. As a result, observers are alarmed at this recent attempt at censorship.
CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkadas, a member of a party board that monitors political pressure on the media, said,
“The government can’t get enough of censorship. This time the victim is Wikipedia. If there was a slander, lie or a pornographic content, this could have been removed via dialog with the website management.”
Similarly, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said Turkey’s decision to block access to Wikipedia is “really worrying,” adding, “we can’t afford to have an unstable country with 80 million citizens.”
The Turkish government bristled at such comments, and pushed back, citing a law allowing it to ban access to websites deemed obscene or a threat to national security. “After technical analysis and legal consideration … an administrative measure has been taken for this website (Wikipedia.Org),” the BTK telecommunications watchdog said in a statement on its website.
Further, Turkey’s communication ministry accused Wikipedia of running a “smear campaign” and colluding with militant groups:
“Instead of coordinating against terrorism, it has become part of an information source which is running a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.”
Moreover, the government was quick to stress that this is not a permanent ban, and that it could be lifted if Wikipedia desisted from its “dangerous” actions. Once the objection to the block is filed with the courts, the court could render a judgment within two days.
For many observers, though, this latest initiative by the government is just another step in a long and concerted effort to silence critics of the Erdogan regime by any means necessary. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey last year jailed 81 journalists – more than any other country. It shouldn’t come as a surprise as, since promulgating an internet censorship law in 2007, the government has cracked down multiple times on free-speech and privacy issues.
Just last December, the government blocked Tor and stifled Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). The fact is that Turkey’s practice of censoring the internet and the social media channels it facilitates is an ongoing issue in the country. In April of last year, the government blocked YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook over photographs involving a hostage situation that resulted in the death of an Istanbul prosecutor.
It even went as far as to attempt to block the photos from being published in newspapers – evidence that their censorship campaign includes all media. President Erdogan doesn’t mince words or apologize for the government’s stance:
“To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Yet, despite the repression, and the failed coup attempt a few months ago, the president’s popularity persists. Indeed, in the aforementioned referendum, he was able to garner a majority of votes, albeit narrowly, to further consolidate and increase his powers. Personally, with more than 60% of the 80 million Turks using the internet and social media platforms, I find this willingness to surrender more freedoms, knowing the result will be increased censorship, baffling.