In Ankara Turkey a court that uber-banned YouTube after upholding its decision in an appeal brought by an association of technology experts is now facing a legal challenge. The Internet Technologies Association, or iNTED, submitted its appeal petition after the Turkish court decided to approve a request from the Press Crimes Department to block 44 proxy websites that provide access to YouTube by hiding users’ IP addresses.
Censorship of the internet in Turkey dates back to 2007, when a law was passed to tackle child pornography and websites that encourage suicide, drug use, gambling or prostitution. The law broadened state powers by creating a government office with the authority to shut down websites without a court order.
The Ankara court originally banned access to YouTube in May 2008 on the grounds that the website had broadcast videos defaming Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic. These videos were of Greek football fans taunting Turks and making defamatory statements about Ataturk.
Earlier this month, Turkey expanded the ban to include Google pages that use the same Internet Protocol addresses as YouTube to prevent users from circumventing the ban. Further, the Ankara court wanted YouTube officials to remove “unlawful and inappropriate content” from global access although it is already technically inaccessible from within Turkey. This is because the site still regularly hits the top 10 of sites most visited in Turkey, via proxy servers. iNTED say fulfilling the requirement would breech jurisdiction limits.
Binali Yildirim is minister for transport and communications and the most visible figure behind the ban. The Turkish President Abdullah Gul has said on Twitter that free speech restrictions were preventing Turkey from ‘integrating with the world’. .
Richard Howitt MEP, a British spokesman for the European parliament committee on Turkey, has warned that the ban places Turkey:
alongside Iran, North Korea and Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders for cyber censorship.
The appeal said bans should be used for inappropriate or unlawful material only, likening the situation to shutting down an entire library because it contained a prohibited publication. As the appeal put it:
Shutting down YouTube is as odd as banning the printing press,
Indeed in relation to the printed press, a daily launched in 2007, the ‘Taraf’, provides a example. The editor faced 5 years in jail in 2009 and a particular journalist is on trial in roughly 40 cases, including one for a story he claims he did not even write. Most recently the editor was called by a general to disclose details of relating to scooped news of an historical alleged military coup.
The case is very relevant for a number of reasons in that: for one it relates to freedom of speech, two it relates to possible discrimination against millions of other users, three, the Turks are facing an ongoing battle about their joining of the EU, and four there are those who claim that Turkey may form a useful and helpful bridge between the EU and the Middle East. And as an afterthought perhaps, it is an example that the information genie is truly out of the bottle. In a religious country with broadly democratic principles with volatile borders this presents as interesting a conundrum as Turkey itself. More than 6,000 sites have been banned in Turkey according to Engelli Web, a site that monitors blocked pages however mostly porn, soccer and escorts.
Meanwhile there are accusations that Google is waging a battle against Turkey and dodging taxes generated from YouTube revenues to the tune of 10 million plus pounds. Goggle has denied this. Please note, as stated before in reading room, Google UK is based in Ireland, where incidentally the tax system is more lenient.