Posts Tagged Freedom

Turkey faces legal challenge over YouTube ban

Nichole Sobecki in Istanbul, Sunday 4 July 2010 18.41 BST
The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul. The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, has spoken out against the ban. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

An internet rights group has launched a legal challenge in Turkey over a ban on access to a host of Google-owned sites.

The case, in which the Internet Technologies Association argues that the restrictions illegally discriminate against millions of users, is the latest front in an ongoing dispute that raises questions about free speech in a country attempting to join the EU.

“It’s an infringement on our fundamental human rights, the freedom of conversations and our right to information,” said Yaman Akdeniz, an associate professor of law at Istanbul Bilgi University and founder of the thinktank Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties.

Turkey’s censorship of the internet 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.

YouTube was banned in 2008 after a video was posted on the site showing Greek football fans taunting Turks and making claims about the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

But the site still regularly scores among the top 10 most visited in Turkey, largely due to the use of proxy servers to circumvent the ban.

“Some people call us Atatürk-haters because we want YouTube to be accessible in Turkey,” said Akdeniz. “But things need to change here.”

Ankara has accused Google of “waging a battle” against Turkey and dodging more than £13m in taxes generated from YouTube revenues – a charge that the US internet company has flatly denied.

Binali Yildirim, Turkey’s minister for transport and communications and the most visible figure behind the ban, said: “This site has entered a fight with the Turkish Republic, but Turkey will not accept this.”

But there has even been mounting anger over the ban among those in power. This month President Abdullah Gul expressed his opposition in a series of tweets, saying free speech restrictions were preventing Turkey from “integrating with the world”. He said he has instructed officials to look into ways to overcome the ban.

Richard Howitt, a British MEP and spokesman for the European parliament’s committee on Turkey, has warned that the ban puts “the country alongside Iran, North Korea and Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders for cyber censorship”.

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Turkish group opens court case over Google services

Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:48am EDT

* Thousands of websites blocked in Turkey

* Turkey asking Google for $20 million in taxes

* Row sparks questions over freedom of speech

By Thomas Grove

ISTANBUL, June 28 (Reuters) – A Turkish Internet rights group opened a court case on Monday to end what it says are illegal restrictions on Google services, the latest step in a debate over Internet freedom in Turkey.

Turkey has clashed with Google before and closed down Google’s (GOOG.O) video sharing platform YouTube in 2008 for videos it said insulted the country’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Internet advocates say efforts to limit access to the video website have caused illegal restrictions on other Google services such as Google Maps and Google Analytics.

“Millions of Internet users and thousands of companies that use Google services have been victimised,” said the Internet Technologies Association in a statement sent to the court.

The group says access to Google services has slowed down and in some cases became unavailable after Google Internet Protocol (IP) addresses were blocked in an attempt to hinder access to other websites.

The Internet Technology Association opened a court case against Turkey last year at the European Court of Human Rights over the banning of YouTube, one of thousands of Internet sites that are closed in Turkey, a European Union candidate country.

Turkey wants Google to open an office in Turkey and says the Internet giant owes some $20 million in taxes from revenues generated from the video site.

“(YouTube) has entered a fight with the Turkish Republic,” said Communications Minister Binali Yildirim last week.

“No matter how much of a fuss is made, we will not bow our heads,” he said in parliament.

Google representatives in Turkey did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

Turkey‘s AK Party government says it has broadened the scope of public debate since taking power in 2002. But curbs on websites have raised concerns. Freedom of speech reforms have ground to a halt in recent years, while the number of closed Internet sites has risen.

As of May 2009 nearly 3,000 Internet sites were closed, according to Turkey‘s information technology watchdog, though advocacy groups put the number nearer 5,000.

“There is no one here in Turkey that makes the effort to protect freedom of expression, there are 60,000 different videos about Turkey in YouTube, and ten have been found to be insulting,” said Mustafa Akgul, head of the advocacy group and an Internet expert at Bilkent University in Ankara.

Analysts have criticised the ease with which citizens can apply to have an Internet site closed down, with a form readily available on the information technology board’s website.

Most sites in Turkey closed by court order are due to allegations that they encourage suicide, contain libel, child pornography, help users access drugs or promote prostitution. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Pakistan Monitors Websites For ‘Blasphemy’ Against Islam

Free speech is precious. We don’t realize how much but maybe as Pakistan monitors websites for “blasphemy” we’ll begin to understand. Pakistan banned Facebook last month when someone wanted people to submit their drawings of the Prophet Muhammed. Now Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Bing and others will be monitored for what Pakistan deems “blasphemous.”

YouTube was also banned by Pakistan for sacrilegious material according to their definition of sacrilege. The monitoring of the websites in Pakistan began with the banning of 17 websites by court order. These sites contain, according to the LaHore High Court, blasphemous material. My Way News reports that one of the banned sites is a site called The “blasphemy” in this case is headlines such as “Islam: The Ultimate Hypocrisy.”

Pakistan is not the only country that has monitored or banned websites. China has monitored websites searching for blasphemy against their god; the government. Other Islamic countries do and will most surely follow Pakistan’s lead in suppressing freedom of speech. Islamic extremists can’t afford for other thoughts and ideas to penetrate their world of indoctrination.

Here in the states, the Obama Administration is looking to “regulate” the internet. Regulation is just another term for monitor. If the Administration has their way, we could be on the slippery slope to outright suppression of our First Amendment rights if they are allowed to monitor sites that may be in opposition to Obama’s policies.

Pakistan monitoring websites for “blasphemy” is a scary thing. The internet is a place for the free exchange of thoughts and ideas. Sure there are wacko’s out there, but even they have the right to speak their peace.

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Turkey Urged to Loosen Rules on Internet Access

Dorian Jones | Ankara
24 June 2010

Europe’s main human rights and security agency told Turkey this week to stop blocking Google’s video-sharing website “YouTube” and thousands of other sites banned under its Internet law. Turkey has banned more websites than any other country in Europe, and ranks with countries like Iran and Burma.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, said the law, introduced in 2007, has been expanded to block more than 5,000 sites in the past few years and is severely damaging freedom of expression and information rights.

The minister of transport, Binyali Yildirim, is responsible for Internet policy. He defends the government’s actions, saying Google could solve all of this by opening an office in Turkey.

It is the duty of everyone to protect the rights of Turkey, he says.  All we are saying is for them to act according to Turkish laws.  We are not in a position to bargain with them. They need to accept Turkish laws and have a valid address in Turkey.

Google is reluctant to set up an office in Turkey because analysts say that would mean opening itself up for possible prosecution over its content.

Google’s hugely popular “YouTube” site has already been banned for two years in Turkey because of videos officials say have denigrated Ataturk,  the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

Professor of Media studies Haluk Sahin at Istanbul’s Bilgi University says Turkey’s lawmakers are simply unable to change with the times.

“It is an extension of a mentality that has very deep roots here. We don’t have a liberal tradition in which freedom of speech and expression is considered to be of a fundamental part of civilized life,” he said.  “As a result law makers today react to developments in ways that are very similar to their fathers and grandfathers used to do, which is to ban.”

Many savvy Web users are circumventing the bans by using proxy servers, but the courts hit back this week by banning them. This prompted President Abdullah Gul to intervene .

“Of course there should not be such bans in Turkey,” he said. “If there is a need for a new law, then the law should be introduced.  They should find a way.  All this should be resolved very soon. Turkey shouldn’t like to appear as a country which bans websites.”

Richard Howitt, spokesman for the European parliament’s committee on Turkey, says he is confident Ankara is pushing for reforms.

“The censorship of the Internet probably is likely a result of local prosecutors, rather than government policy. That these complaints that we brought to our parliamentary colleagues were listened to, we got commitments for them to be investigated,” he said.

But such optimism is not shared by Professor Sahin.  He says despite the growing national and international pressure he doesn’t expect legal change anytime soon.

“Nobody seems to move a finger to change them, even when they say see it, they do not take necessary steps to get rid of them. It’s anomaly that makes Turkey an embarrassing place,” he said.

That pessimism seems well placed with no Internet reforms currently planned.  So for some time to come,  Turkey seems destined to remain in the company of countries like Burma, North Korea and Iran when it comes to Internet freedom.

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South Pacific Countries Crack Down on Free Speech

| June 18, 2010

There must be something in the water down in the South Pacific. Following the recent news that an Australian state is considering tough new legislation banning swearing in public, comes word that Thailand has blocked 43,000 websites accused of defaming the king.

Thai authorities are using strict Internet crime laws, along with laws that make it illegal to criticize the monarchy, plus emergency powers the government granted itself following the recent outbreak of anti-government protests. The latest crackdown comes after 17,000 other websites were blocked, supposedly for national security reasons.Clothilde Le Coz from Reporters Without Borders has more context:

Blocking Twitter and Facebook is nothing new for Thai authorities. Since at least 2009, this has been a regular practice among the Thai police. So far, one blogger, Suwicha Thakor, has been jailed for his online activities. In April of last year, he was given a 10-year jail sentence by a criminal court in the northeast Bangkok district of Ratchada. This was for posting content online that was deemed to have insulted the monarchy. Thakor has been held in Bangkok’s Klong Prem prison since January 14. […]

The harassment of netizens is widely spread and does not stop at Thai borders. In 2006, Anthony Chai, an American citizen from California, was interrogated by Thai officials in Thailand and again later in the U.S. for allegedly insulting the monarchy in 2006. Originally from Thailand, Chai was granted U.S. citizenship in the late 1970s. He faces possible arrest if he returns to Thailand. “What if now the U.S. is allowing a U.S. citizen to be interrogated by foreign agents on U.S. soil?” he said. You can read more about Chai’s case here.

With all the instability in Thailand, a feature in The Diplomat notes that many people in the region are pointing to Indonesia as a better model for democracy. But critics of the government are suffering in Indonesia, too:

Indonesia may have made significant strides on media freedoms since repealing many of the repressive Suharto-era laws that muzzled the press. But rights groups say the government is still trying to silence critics of public officials, pointing to renewed efforts to monitor the Internet as evidence that free speech remains in jeopardy.

Take, for example, the case of Prita Mulyasari—probably the best example of how uncomfortable Jakarta’s elite are with online media. The housewife and mother of two spent three weeks in jail for writing an e-mail to friends complaining about the treatment she received at a private hospital.

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Vietnam always ensures freedom of speech

Updated : 12:00 PM, 06/17/2010

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has refuted claims that Vietnam tries to control internet users.

Nguyen Phuong Nga said on June 16 that in Vietnam, the rights to freedom of information and freedom of speech are ensured and stipulated in the law. Concerns that ‘the government threatens people’s freedom to express their views on the internet’ are groundless, she said.

Ms Nga made the statement while answering questions from reporters about an online article that accused Vietnam of issuing new regulations for internet shops to exercise more control over internet users.

She said that the Decision issued by the Hanoi Municipal People’s Committee on April 26, 2010, was aimed at ensuring safety and healthiness for users at public internet service points in the city.

Ms Nga cited the fact that many bad practices have occurred during internet business activities such as uploading violent or porn material and other distasteful content which goes against the country’s customs.

Vietnam is one of the countries to have the highest internet growth rates in the world. The number of internet users in the country has risen by 100 times since 2000 to nearly 24 million currently, or nearly 28 percent of the population. In Hanoi alone, more than 60 percent of the population has access to the internet.

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US gives Iran more net freedom – but what about Syria?

Jillian C York, Wednesday 16 June 2010 17.06 BST
Article history

Iranian web users recently received some good news: following the media frenzy over last year’s elections, the US has chosen to relax export controls related to technology, giving users access to previously unavailable communications tools. The changes will affect not only Iran, but Sudan and Cuba as well, countries where free internet use has long been stifled by US restrictions.

In March the treasury department’s office of foreign assets control (OFAC) announced the amendments to current controls to “ensure that individuals in these countries can exercise their universal right to free speech and information to the greatest extent possible”. The amendments will allow those netizens to download software related to communications, such as instant messaging and chat clients, and tools related to social networking, and also permit the export of the same types of software to Iran and Sudan.

This news comes at a time when dialogue surrounding freedom of expression online is at a fever pitch in the United States. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in her celebrated January speech on internet freedom, stated that American companies need to take a principled stand against censorship, and that it should be part of the country’s “national brand”. In that vein, the amendments to the current export controls are a welcome gesture, both to American companies and to the netizens who benefit from their products.

Iran, of course, is an obvious target for these amendments, with nearly 30 million internet users and significant media attention in recent months. But what about Syria? Although there are no OFAC restrictions placed on Syria, the US department of commerce’s 2004 Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act prohibits the export of most goods containing more than 10% US-manufactured component parts to the country. The act also includes a provision on items deemed imports, including technology or source code controlled on the Commerce Control List, though licences are available for software providers through the bureau of industry and security.

Syrian netizens have long been aware of the effects of export controls on their lives. They are prevented from downloading popular software such as Java and Adobe Acrobat, and browsers such as Google’s Chrome. Microsoft products are available, but in pirated form, or smuggled in illegally. What is surprising to many, however, is when a new ban suddenly emerges; each year, a number of software providers seemingly crack down on Syrian users, often blocking access to entire websites for fear of non-compliance with the act.

For example, in early 2009, Syrian visitors to the professional networking site LinkedIn were surprised to be met with a blockpage. Though the full-on block was quickly removed, to this day users are barred from accessing the site’s proprietary software. Similarly, in January 2010, open-source code repository SourceForge began blocking the IP addresses of users in Iran, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea and Syria, much to the dismay of open-source enthusiasts. Though in the end, SourceForge removed the blanket block – placing responsibility on project managers to choose their level of restriction – the fact remains that a large swath of open-source projects are still off limits to users from restricted countries.

But in Syria, just as in Iran, the internet serves as an important communications and organising tool for dissidents and average users alike. And when you consider the fact that the Syrian government filters the internet internally as well (blocking sites such as Facebook and Blogspot, among many others), you realise that users are left with very little wiggle room.

If Hillary Clinton is serious about promoting internet freedom to all, she would be wise to consider the effects of the Syrian accountability act on the average Syrian netizen and what that means for the United States’ “brand” of internet freedom.

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Fatimah’s Say: Its true that Syria should also be taken care of with regards to Internet freedom. Internet has become the more important form of learning these days. The Syrian government and American authorities should give high priority to Syria as well where Internet regulations have become so rigid it is bond to aggravate the public. I believe that if Syrians are given more freedom, they would be able to educate themselves more on the world surrounding theirs. They will be able to connect to others, share with others and learn new things. The economy of the country would see a grow with more people educating themselves.

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