Posts Tagged Turkey

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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Turkey tightens Internet control in YouTube feud

26 June 2010

ANKARA, Turkey — Furious over Internet insults of the country’s beloved founder, Turkey has gone on the offensive against Google, tightening a ban on YouTube and cutting public access to a host of Google-owned sites.

Turkey’s communications minister has accused the Internet giant of waging a battle against Turkey and dodging taxes. But the government faces widespread public anger and attacks from the political opposition for restricting freedoms.

Even the president has spoken out against banning internet sites — using his Twitter account — after Turkey restricted access to some Google pages earlier this month.

The controversy is a setback for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which won plaudits for carrying out democratic reforms but now stands accused of placing Turkey in the same class as countries already notorious for tight Internet controls.

“If the government doesn’t now put an end to the Internet ban that has extended to certain Google services … Erdogan’s name will be remembered along with that of Internet prohibiter Ahmadinejad,” wrote Haluk Sahin, a professor of media studies and columnist for Radikal newspaper, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran cracked down on free use of the Internet during its disputed presidential election last summer.

Even for Turkey, exercising control of the internet is not new.

The country began blocking access to websites in 2007, after parliament adopted an a law against cyber crime in an effort to curb child porn, prevent the dissemination of terrorist propaganda and stamp out illegal gambling. Websites deemed to be disrespectful of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and of religious beliefs were also outlawed.

Under court order, Turkey’s telecommunications authority banned access to YouTube, the video-sharing site, in May 2008, after users complained that some videos insulted Ataturk. Earlier this month, Turkey expanded the ban to include some Google pages that use the same Internet Protocol addresses as YouTube, to prevent users from circumventing the ban. The search giant Google Inc. is YouTube’s parent company.

Hundreds of internet users have signed an online petition denouncing the ban as an affront to “free speech and rights to access information.” Signatories are calling for the resignation of the telecommunications officials and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim.

Three information technology groups are challenging the ban in courts.

President Abdullah Gul threw his weight behind opponents of the ban in a series of tweets June 14, saying the Internet gag was preventing Turkey from “integrating with the world.” He said he has instructed officials to look into ways of overcoming the ban, including changing laws if necessary.

“I cannot approve of Turkey being in the category of countries that bans YouTube (and) prevents access to Google,” the president said.

The opposition Republican People’s Party, which under new leadership is trying to present itself as a viable alternative to Erdogan’s government in elections next year, brought the issue to parliament Thursday.

“The whole of Turkey is disturbed. Reaction, criticism, protests are increasing by the day,” lawmaker Emrehan Halici said. “Unfortunately, we are again faced with censorship in our country.”

Yildirim, the minister in charge of Internet issues, responded by accusing YouTube of attacks against Turkey.

“This site is waging a battle against the Turkish Republic but Turkey will never accept it,” he said.

He accused Google of failing to abide by Turkish laws and failing to cooperate with Turkish authorities.

This month, Yildirim lashed out at Google saying it owed Turkey 30 million Turkish Lira (US$20 million) in taxes for revenue from advertisements placed in Turkey.

Google said in an e-mailed statement that it is “disappointed that that this ban remains in place against a safe and lawful international service enjoyed by millions of people around the world.”

“Google complies with tax law in every country in which it operates,” Google said. “We are currently in discussion with the Turkish authorities about this, and are confident we comply with Turkish law. We report profits in Turkey which are appropriate for the activities of our Turkish operations.”

Erdogan has in the past shrugged off complaints over the YouTube ban. In 2008, he told a journalist: “I know how to get around the ban,” and urged everyone else to do the same. He would not however, disclose which proxy servers he used to circumvent the ban.

Richard Howitt, a British member of the European Parliament and advocate of Turkey’s European Union membership, has warned Turkey that it cannot be considered as a serious candidate as long as the Internet continues to be censored.

Howitt said the ban puts “the country alongside Iran, North Korea and Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders for cyber censorship.”

The 56-nation Vienna-based security and human rights organization has also called on Turkey to abolish or reform the law that allows it to block Internet sites.

More than 6,000 sites have been banned in Turkey according to Engelli Web, a site that monitors blocked pages.

Inaccessible sites include pornographic pages, some online betting sites, escort services and sites that provide live soccer feeds.

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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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