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Free Expression

Turkish Prime Minister Doubles Down on Censorship

Just a day after a Turkish court found that a nationwide block of Twitter violated the free expression rights of Turkish citizens, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apparently now targeted YouTube for a similar ban.  In an election season featuring a succession of leaks alleging that the Erdoğan administration is rife with corruption, the prime minister ordered the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) to block Turkish users’ access to Twitter late last week.  Erdoğan has been railing against social media for months, as his critics advocate for the ouster of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party in the upcoming elections.

Last Friday, Erdoğan took the drastic step of ordering TIB to implement domain-name blocks against; TIB later ratcheted up the blocking mechanisms when these initial blocks proved trivially easy for Turkish users to circumvent. The Twitter ban remains in place, and today, Turkish users are also having difficulty accessing YouTube. TIB has announced that it has taken administrative measures to block the site, after an audio file was uploaded that allegedly captured high-level Turkish officials planning an attack in Syria.

Turkish citizens have been fighting back against the Twitter blockade. The Turkish Journalists’ Association and the Union of Turkish Bar Associates were among a number of organizations who filed complaints with the administrative court in Ankara. These complaints led to a court opinion finding Erdoğan’s ban to violate the guarantees to freedom of expression and communication in the Turkish constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court’s ruling directs the government to drop the ban and reinstate access to the website.  Two law professors have also appealed directly to the European Court of Human Rights, asking for an emergency injunction against the ban before local elections occur this Sunday. Twitter is also challenging the ban.

Blocking an entire platform for individuals’ speech is a massively overbroad response to concerns over potentially illegal content.  Issuing such a block expressly to silence political criticism is censorship of the most obvious kind. As the Turkish court has concluded, Erdoğan’s sweeping blocking order against Twitter is an egregious violation of the right to free expression enshrined in the Turkish constitution and international human rights treaties. This makes TIB’s new effort to enact the same type of block for YouTube all the more shocking.  CDT joins the Turkish people and free expression advocates around the world in calling for an immediate reversal of these bans and a restoration of respect for freedom of expression in Turkey.