Twitter ban lifted, but the dangers remain

Using hashtags like #TekrarHoşgeldinTwitter (welcome back Twitter), the news that the Turkish government had finally lifted the ban on twitter came across my desktop this afternoon.

Twitter is no longer banned in Turkey

Twitter is no longer banned in Turkey

I don’t think I was the only one who sighed in relief.  Though the government response was slow, coming some twenty-four hours after the Turkish Supreme Court had issued its decision, this was an important victory for freedom of expression and the rule of law in Turkey. 

Still, as one colleague noted, it took not one, but two court orders to finally end the banWhen a lower court ruled against the ban, the government chose to drag its feet, ensuring that twitter was not freely accessible during the important municipal elections this past Sunday (though many tech-savvy Turks were able to work around the ban).

Moreover, as Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey notes, the government’s attack on twitter is part of a larger effort to control social mediaFrom Istanbul, he writes:

With the mainstream media firmly under the government’s influence, social media, a crucial platform for dissenting voices was the logical next target.

The now lifted Twitter ban and the continuing block on YouTube are likely to be merely the opening shots in a battle for control of internet content in Turkey

Prime Minister Erdogan's Twitter page is now presumably open for business

Prime Minister Erdogan’s Twitter page is now presumably open for business

Elsewhere, Gardner has written that “the Turkish government appears to be itching for pretexts to close down websites because of their capacity to mobilize dissenting opinion and broadcast embarrassing material.”

As I argued yesterday in a blog for AI-USA, these attacks on internet freedom are part of a larger effort by the state to crackdown on dissent and solidify its control over Turkish society:

In the aftermath of the Turkish government’s brutal crackdown of the Gezi Protests in May and June of last year, however, the Turkish government has worked to systematically limit the means of dissent while ensuring that its control over basic institutions remained unquestioned.

Gardner highlights the steps which the government has taken to extend its control in recent months:

The pre-election period was marred by a series of power grabs by the government – over internet content, with amendments to the internet law and the blocking orders, executive control over the judiciary – with changes to the functions and make-up of the Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors and state surveillance.

The worst might still be ahead of us. “Still pending [are] amendments to the powers of the national intelligence service (MIT), granting it almost absolute and immeasurable powers and putting it beyond the scrutiny of law,”  Gardner writes, “it all adds up to a major roll back on incremental improvements to the human rights situation over the past decade in Turkey.”

The news today was good and the coverage in the international press celebratory.  But the twitter ban was only a small part of a much larger problem.  And the overall picture is very troubling indeed.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University




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