The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government blocked access to YouTube shortly before the March 30 elections, in what was believed to be in response to a leaked meeting of top Turkish security officials on Syria.
But officials have been offering highly varied explanations for the ban, which are also inconsistent with one another, reports Today’s Zaman.
The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) on March 27 blocked access to popular video-sharing platform YouTube hours after a leaked voice recording allegedly featuring the voices of Turkey’s foreign minister, intelligence chief and a top army general discussing the developments in neighboring war-torn Syria was uploaded onto the site.
The move had come days after a ban was introduced on Twitter, where users were sharing links to voice recordings that allegedly served as proof of graft allegations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, some of his family members and ministers.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated YouTube had been blocked due to national security reasons, but the TİB website offers a different explanation. According to the body, the video-sharing website was shut down on the basis of a ruling by the Gölbaşı Court of Peace from March 27 made over a violation of Paragraph 1/b of Article 8 of Law No. 5651 on Internet publications. The paragraph in question criminalizes defaming the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Gökhan Ahi, a telecommunications law expert who spoke to the Hürriyet newspaper, said TİB had used another law to block access to the site, as there are no laws that allow banning websites out of national security concerns.
Yet a third statement regarding the YouTube ban came from the AK Party’s Mehmet Metiner on Wednesday, saying the government will not unblock Twitter or YouTube unless the two websites agree to abide by the rulings of Turkish courts. Although Metiner is the first AK Party member to say that YouTube ignored a court order, many others have previously asserted the same claim for Twitter.
The Twitter ban has been in place in spite of an injunction against it issued by the 15th Ankara Administrative Court.
Government officials have accused Twitter of not implementing rulings of Turkish courts, but Twitter has said it had deleted two of three accounts associated with three court orders that are the purported legal basis behind the ban. It said the third account, used to direct allegations of corruption at one minister, was not deleted as the company considered its tweets as falling under the scope of free speech. However, access to it was withheld only in Turkey.
In addition to Internet censorship, the government has been extremely intolerant of press outlets that do not agree with it.
One day after the ban on YouTube was introduced, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) canceled the nationwide broadcasting license of the Kanaltürk television station.
The RTÜK penalty came days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to finish off the Hizmet movement — inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen — and its associates, including Samanyolu Haber TV.
The blocking of Twitter and YouTube has raised concern internationally.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle in initial remarks said he was “gravely concerned” by the block imposed on Twitter in Turkey. The vice chairman of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, German MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, called for the suspension of accession talks following the ban. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, commented on the issue in a press release issued on the group’s website:
“Mr. Erdoğan has lost all sense of direction and balance. Banning a social media network with 10 million users in Turkey is nothing short of a blatant attack on freedom of speech.”
Reacting to the YouTube ban in Turkey, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in Washington said the United States opposes “any action that encroaches on the right of free speech or free expression.” International human rights organizations, the EU and even Hollywood celebrities have criticized Turkey’s censorship of the social media.
International groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and PEN International have also condemned Turkey’s social media censorship.