This year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) — a high-profile, United Nations-mandated annual conference on issues surrounding governance of the internet — is taking place in Istanbul, Turkey. But Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak, two renowned Turkish internet rights advocates, are boycotting it. Here they explain why.
Between May 2007 and July 2014 Turkey blocked access to approximately 48,000 websites subject to its controversial Internet Law No 5651. Although the law is ostensibly aimed to protect children from harmful content, from the very beginning it has been used to prevent adults’ access to information. In February amendments made to the legislation extended blocking provisions to include URL-based blocking of internet content. The same amendments compelled all internet service providers (ISPs) to be part of an association for access providers to centrally enforce blocking orders within four hours of receipt. It also introduced one-to-two-year data retention requirements for hosting companies and all ISPs. Furthermore, subject to new provisions, ISPs are required to take all necessary measures to block alternative access means such as proxy websites and other circumvention services including, possibly, VPN services. The amended version of the law also shields staff from the Presidency of Telecommunications and Communication (TIB) from prosecution if they commit crimes in their work for the telecoms authority.
In March access to both Twitter and YouTube was blocked arbitrarily and unlawfully by the TIB. With both blocking orders the government aimed to prevent the circulation of graft allegations ahead of local elections to be held on 30 March. During the blocking period, the authorities also ordered major ISPs to hijack Google and OpenDNS’s DNS servers, tampering with the DNS system to surveil communications, as well as to prevent users from circumventing blocking orders. Turkey’s constitutional court stated that the blocking of Twitter by TIB constituted a grave intervention on the freedom of expression of all Twitter users. Furthermore, in a 14-2 majority judgment, the court decided that the YouTube ban infringed on freedom of expression protected by the constitution.
However, despite these strong rulings, Twitter decided to implement its country withheld content policy for Turkey and started to block access to certain Turkish accounts and individual tweets. It was reported in June that Twitter complied with 44 out of 51 court decisions since they visited Ankara on 14 April, and the US-based social media platform continues to aid and assist Turkish authorities in censoring political content.
Facebook has also banned the pages of a number of alternative news sources, including Yüksekova Haber (Yuksekova News), Ötekilerin Postası (The Others’ Post), Yeni Özgür Politika (New Free Policy), Kürdi Müzik (Kurdish Music), and other groups related to Kurdish movements. The site has also been criticised for removing several pages related to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Regardless of the above-mentioned constitutional court decisions, access to popular platforms such as Scribd, Last.fm, Metacafe, and Soundcloud is currently blocked from Turkey. Access to WordPress, DailyMotion, Vimeo and Google+ has in the past year been blocked temporarily by court or administrative orders. A number of alternative news websites that report on Kurdish issues, including Firat News, Azadiya Welat, Dengemed and Keditor, remain indefinitely blocked. In total it is estimated that 200 websites are banned indefinitely for their pro-Kurdish or left wing content.
Over the past year, many people have received suspended sentences and fines for their social media activity, usually on charges related to terrorism, blasphemy, or criticism of the state and its officials. In the crackdown following the Gezi Park protests of June 2013, dozens of people were detained over their social media posts. Criminal investigations and prosecutions were initiated subject to Articles 214 and 217 of the Turkish criminal code concerning incitement to commit a crime and disobey the law, as well as miscellaneous provisions of Law No 2911, on demonstrations and public meetings. In September 2013, pianist and composer Fazil Say was given a suspended sentence of 10 months and court supervision for insulting religious values in a series of tweets. Such criminal investigations and prosecutions have a chilling effect on all social media platform users.
In addition to widespread blocking of websites and content as well as criminal investigations and prosecutions to silence political speech, the Turkish authorities are also building surveillance infrastructure, which includes the deployment of deep packet inspection systems to monitor all forms of communications unlawfully.
Therefore, we have decided to boycott IGF 2014 hosted by Ministry of Transport, Maritime and Communications and coordinated by the Information and Technologies Authority. We also confirm that we will not be taking part in the IGF.
Yaman Akdeniz & Kerem Altiparmak
This edited version of the statement has been republished with permission from the authors. You can find the original and fully referenced statement here.