Ankara Administrative Court on Wednesday issued a stay of execution on Turkey’s Twitter ban, saying the ban runs “contrary to the principles of rule of law,” and Twitter shortly after announced that it is also launching legal action against the ban.
The access ban was mainly seen as a response to allegations of corruption against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
The court’s ruling is the result of a review of a petition against the ban filed by the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) earlier this week. The court ruled that the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) must stop blocking access to the site.
The TİB still has a right to appeal the stay within seven days, according to the TBB, which also noted that the body has 30 days to enforce the court order. However, the TBB’s Güneş Gürseler claimed that since this is not an individual case but a public case, the TİB must lift the block immediately, without waiting for the higher court’s decision. It still wasn’t clear on Wednesday whether the ban would be lifted.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ criticized the administrative court ruling, saying the TİB is already carrying out court orders, but Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said the government will enforce the court decision.
In a related development, the Constitutional Court, which was expected to review individual applications concerning the country’s Twitter ban on Wednesday, deemed it unnecessary to make a decision on the ban following the Ankara court’s decision.
In the afternoon, Twitter made a statement on its blog announcing that the company had finally “filed petitions for lawsuits we have been working on together with our independent Turkish attorney over the last few days in various Turkish courts to challenge the access ban on Twitter, joining Turkish journalists and legal experts, Turkish citizens, and the international community in formally asking for the ban to be lifted.” The company’s statement also indicated that it knew nothing about some 700 Twitter accounts that Prime Minister Erdoğan says were the subject of court orders.
Twitter said the purported legal basis for the ban is three court orders, “none of which were provided to us [Twitter] prior to the ban,” and a request from a public prosecutor. It said two of the three accounts the court orders related to were deleted as they were also in violation of Twitter rules.
“The last order,” it said, “instructed us to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption. This order causes us concern. Political speech is among the most important speech, especially when it concerns possible government corruption. That’s why today we have also petitioned the Turkish court on behalf of our users to reverse this order,” it said.
It said access to this account has been withheld only in Turkey and can still be accessed elsewhere.
The Twitter ban was introduced on Thursday last week, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a public rally that he despises the micro-blogging site. The ban came at a time when several accounts were posting leaked voice recordings allegedly featuring the voices of Erdoğan, some of his family members and the members of his government, which allegedly serve as proof of graft allegations brought against the government by prosecutors on Dec. 17.
Erdoğan spoke on NTV on Tuesday, reiterating earlier threats to shut down YouTube as well. He said some columnists claim he has hurt his reputation with the ban, but added, “I am not losing anything, I [see the proof] at the [crowded] rally squares.”
He said the government is not against Twitter, but against the company’s approach to Turkey. He repeated his earlier remarks saying that it was guilty of not deleting accounts as demanded by court order.
Erdoğan also said Twitter had cooperated with the governments of various other countries. He pointed out that authorities and the government in France issued 305 requests for the deletion of 365 accounts, while the US requested 679 requests for the deletion of 948 accounts. He indicated that 75 percent of the accounts had been deleted. “In Germany, Twitter blocked neo-Nazi accounts based on a request from the government. In France, Twitter took action against anti-Semitic and racist tweets and removed such content from the site in 2012. In India, mass messaging was banned due to violence between the Bodo tribe and Muslims, and Google, Facebook and Twitter announced that they would work together with the Indian government,” he said. He also claimed that in 2012, following the riots in London, Prime Minister David Cameron implied that a Twitter ban might be in order, but such a measure was not taken because the riots finally subsided.
Erdoğan said he didn’t understand how Twitter could still expect him to act in good faith. “Some people will call the prime minister the ‘prime thief,’ call ministers ‘thief ministers’ and other things. [Twitter has] been warned, but they are not deleting these accounts.”
“What is this thing you call Twitter? It is a company. You look and see, there is [also] YouTube behind this. They don’t have any representatives here, they work through their lawyers,” he said. He reiterated that “Turkey is not a banana republic.”
Earlier, Erdoğan and some ministers had referred to several accounts that needed to be deleted. But now the prime minister is saying there are about 700 such accounts. “We will see how they will act [regarding] those accounts that they have been notified of,” he said, adding that if the accounts are removed, the ban could be removed. “There are violations of privacy; there is racism. How can you [Twitter] publish this?”