Web users have stepped away from their keyboards and on to the streets in Istanbul. Yaman Akdeniz reports
Internet censorship is alive and kicking in Turkey, with at least 5000 websites currently being blocked within the country. Some commentators estimate that number to be closer to 8000, whilst the official statistics are currently kept secret by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB).
YouTube is the best known example, but several other websites, including leftist and pro-Kurdish news websites, are all blocked for political reasons outside the scope of the current law. As was documented in a January 2010 report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), news sites such as Atilim, Özgür Gündem, Keditör, Günlük Gazetesi and Firat News Agency are all blocked indefinitely by the courts. The website of El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, is also currently blocked within Turkey because of a single video clip deemed to be illegal.
In June 2010 Turkish internet censorship went from bad to worse, as 44 IP addresses used jointly by YouTube and Google were blocked, initially by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency, and then by the Ankara’s First Criminal Court of Peace. The reason behind blocking the IP addresses was to make it even harder to access YouTube from Turkey (YouTube has been blocked since May 2008). The IP blocking paralysed access to numerous Google services such as Analytics, Translate, Docs, Books, Map, and Earth. I, together with fellow academic Dr. Kerem Altiparmak, appealed against the decision of the Court arguing that the blocking of Google related services had no legal basis, is a serious infringement on freedom of speech and is further-reaching than is necessary in a democratic society. The appeal was dismissed by the Court. Having exhausted all the available national remedies, an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is imminent.
Internet users are known to be glued to their computers and keyboards and so far protests have mostly been restricted to Facebook groups, Twitter and the popular FriendFeed social network. However, a protest march was recently organized by a web based organization called March Against Censorship. The Istanbul Mayor’s Office was notified by The Chamber of Electrical Engineers (EMO). The whole protest march was organized in less than 10 days, but despite this there was lot of media coverage prior to the event. Social media platforms were extensively used to raise the profile of the event.
In spite of it being a hot weekend, approximately 2000 people marched against government censorship of the internet on Saturday 17 July 2010. The first ever protest march against internet censorship started in the popular Taksim Square, where protestors carried a banner that stated “Censorship-free Internet”.
The hour long march included demonstrators from several civil society organisations and internet groups, including Cyber-Rights.Org.TR, Young Civilians, Sansüre Sansür (Censor Censorship), Sansüre Karşı Ortak Platform (Joint Platform against Censorship), the satirical Penguen Magazine, Turkish Netizen movement and the Internet Technologies Association (INETD). Demonstrators had whistles, portable music systems and tambourines.
Several colourful banners brought the march to life. They included “Do not click on our freedom”, “Do not touch my porn” and “Censorship offends me”.
The anti-censorship march ended in Galatasaray Square with a press declaration that called for the abolition of Law No. 5651, entitled Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publication. This law forms the basis of the Turkish Internet Censorship.
The demonstrators demanded unrestricted Internet access in the name of freedom of speech and information. The members of the Joint Platform against Censorship announced that there will be several more protests, including marches in the capital Ankara and in Izmir, Turkey’s third city. It remains to be seen whether the government will listen, but users certainly raised their voices, in the streets this time rather than in front of their keyboards.
Dr. Yaman Akdeniz is Associate Professor of Human Rights at Istanbul Bilgi University and Director of Cyber-Rights.Org.