No More Freedom of Communication?

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Censorship in Turkey: How free is the internet?

There's a battle waging across Turkey centred around power, freedom and information. Hundreds of journalists have been detained and around 150 media outlets have been shut down – access to Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook is also slowly being controlled by the government. Quo vadis, Turkey?

Erdogan's government is becoming ever more creative in restricting its citizens. What are the societal consequences? We get some answers from IT and communication scientist Melih Kırlıdoğ, journalist Efe Kerem Sözeri and lawyer Başak Çalı.

How did it get to this level of censorship?

In 2007, Turkey's Parliament passed the so-called “internet act” - a decisive step on the way towards censorship. Through this law, the state supposedly wanted to act against child pornography on the internet. In reality however, it gives the authorities not only the power to block critical content but even whole websites. Since then, countless websites have been completely shut down.

What happened next?

In 2014, the “internet act” was expanded: the new version forced internet providers to block certain IP addresses and URLs. This means that the government not only control websites but also the users directly.

What is the current situation?

Since the attempted coup in 2016, the AKP has declared a state of emergency. It no longer has to justify blocking any pages on the internet. Most recently, Wikipedia has been added to that list. Also, the state can now regulate online traffic. This means: the authorities can slow down the access to websites until they are barely usable. Twitter, which is an important communication tool for the Turkish opposition, as well as other pages have been affected by this. Also Tor-browsers have been partially blocked.

Has there been any resistance?

Already back in 2014, the European Court of Justice and Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled against this infringement, however without any real consequences. There are also organisations that document the online censorship. For example they show some Kurdish regions are specifically cut off from information. Alternative news websites manage to circumvent the censorship by regularly changing their domain.

What can we do?

Talking about Turkey's problems is already a crucial step, says Efe Kerem Sözeri. “By doing so we put the government under pressure.” Başak Çalı adds: “The EU has to stand more firmly behind the court decisions and demand of Turkey that these decisions are to be recognised and adhered to.”

By Paul Hildebrandt, Ivy Nortey (EJS)

Photo credit: Ivy Nortey