TİB lifts Twitter ban after initially resisting court ruling

The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) waited for an entire day to lift its block on Twitter following a Constitutional Court ruling overturning the ban, even though it was legally obligated to enforce the decision immediately.

The Constitutional Court ordered access to be restored on Wednesday, calling the two-week-long ban a violation of the right to free expression.

The decision was published in the Official Gazette early Thursday and the Ankara Bar Association said it had been finalized and was immediately to be put into effect. However, TİB waited until early Thursday evening.

The delay raised questions about whether the government would ignore the high court’s ruling, although Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ had said TİB should implement the decision immediately. However, he also said that the government had defended the honor of the country by blocking Twitter, arguing that the site had been blocked for ignoring rulings from Turkish courts.

However, there is a widespread belief that the main reason for the ban was because of anonymous account holders who leaked voice recordings implicating Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a number of his family members and members of his government in corruption.

Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay also said the government would implement the high court’s decision, but gave no timeframe. He also criticized the decision, saying the court should “safeguard” people’s right to privacy on social media websites. TİB convened in the afternoon to “discuss” the high court’s ruling, shortly after which, it removed a post about a court order which it earlier cited as the basis of the ban on Twitter. It lifted the ban at around 5:45 p.m.

Even though the ban was eventually lifted, the government gave good reasons to believe that Twitter was not going to be unblocked. AK Party deputy Mustafa Şentop spoke to NTV on Thursday prior to the unblocking and said that as a legal expert, he did not agree with the Constitutional Court’s ruling. He also argued that the court ruling is only binding for the three people who took the issue to court.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Yasin Aktay, speaking on BeyazTV on Thursday, said: “The Constitutional Court went ahead and resolved this fresh issue when it had countless petitions to deal with. This decision can serve as a cautionary tale. There is a conflict between the Republic of Turkey and a foreign company [Twitter]. This decision, made during this fight, is not patriotic. They haven’t acted in accordance with our national interests.” He said he was deeply disappointed by the ruling and that he doubted that the ruling was well intentioned. “There are so many rights violations, and they are hastily making a ruling just because a couple of people couldn’t log onto Twitter. They are wasting time on such unnecessary matters.”

Also prior to TİB’s removal of the blockage, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) petitioned the high court along with two academics to overturn the ban and called for access to be reinstated immediately; he also threatened to file a legal complaint against the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK), saying not doing so was an abuse of their position.

Tanrıkulu said the Constitutional Court treated the ban as a violation of human rights, and added: “The violation is ongoing. Not enforcing the court ruling is an abuse of authority.” The CHP deputy chairman was at the BTK headquarters in the morning. He called on BTK President Tayfun Acarer and other bureaucrats of the institution to enforce the ban. He said the Constitutional Court’s ruling was less important for Acarer and TİB President Cemalettin Çelik than the prime minister’s words “Twitter, Schmitter,” which initially triggered the ban.

He congratulated the high court’s judges for the ruling, saying it is in line with universal standards of democracy. Tanrıkulu also recalled that an earlier ruling, which also asked for the removal of the ban by the Ankara 15th Administrative Court, had also gone ignored. He said if that ruling had been enforced immediately, the Constitutional Court might not have made the Twitter ruling.

Had officials insisted on the blockage, they would have committed a crime. Professor Ergun Özbudun said some government officials have already stated that the ruling will be enforced, and added: “Not enforcing a clear court ruling is a violation of the law. I doubt it can be done.”

The head of the Ankara Bar Association recalled that TİB ignored an administrative court ruling earlier. “TİB is committing a crime every minute it ignores the rulings of the administrative court and the Constitutional Court.” She also said Internet service providers (ISPs) should now lift the ban on their own.

Law and Life Association President and lawyer Mehmet Kasap said, “This is a very important decision in terms of freedom of speech,” and that the decision should be enforced immediately. “We don’t even want to think about the possibility of the ruling not being enforced. But if that is the case, it will be a violation of the principle of the rule of law.”

“If enforcing a Constitutional Court ruling is delayed, or if it is not enforced in a country, you cannot speak of the supremacy of law in that country. It is a very clear violation of the principle of supremacy of law. If you are not enforcing the decision of the highest court, that means you are simply ignoring the rule of separation of powers,” said Öztürk Türkdoğan, head of the Human Rights Association (İHD). “You can’t do something like that, regardless of your voter support. I think the ruling will be enforced.”

On Thursday, writers from the news website P24, which describes itself as the Platform for Independent Journalists, filed a complaint against Acarer, Çelik and other bureaucrats at the BTK and TİB on charges of “abuse of authority,” “blocking IT [information technology] systems” and “preventing communication through methods against the law.” The refusal to enforce the ruling is in violation of the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Law No. 5651, which regulates Internet publishing.

Oran’s question to Arınç

In a Twitter-related development, CHP Deputy Chairman Umut Oran submitted a parliamentary question, demanding a response from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, inquiring when the Twitter ruling will be enforced. He also asked whether the user account @fuatavni — a Twitter user who claims to be close to the prime minister and shares supposed secrets and information from around him — belongs to Arınç. Some have suggested that the user account @fuatavni is the reason behind the block.

Davutoğlu defends Twitter, YouTube bans

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is visiting New York on an official visit as part of Turkey’s pursuit of a seat on the UN Security Council, said the Twitter ban is the reflection of a principled stance by the government. He said Twitter was banned for its refusal to delete accounts that violate the rights of individual Turkish citizens. He denied that the ban is a measure to limit freedom of communication, but rather a measure to protect the rights of the people of Turkey. He said the Constitutional Court ruling will be “evaluated.”

The social media ban has sparked international criticism of Turkey, a country that is a candidate to join the European Union. On Wednesday, the United States Embassy in Turkey welcomed the high court’s decision to lift the ban on Twitter. EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle said on Twitter that he looked forward to the “swift enforcement” of the court order.

Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson at the US State Department, also spoke about the ruling, saying: “We think it [the ban] needs to end, and if there has been a court decision, we think it needs to be implemented quickly, as quickly as possible,” according to an official transcript of a press briefing on Wednesday.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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