Turkey’s block of Twitter and free expression

by Edyta Sitko

March 26, 2014

I never thought I would be defending Twitter. I have nothing against the social media network; I was just never a regular user. However, because media censorship is common in Turkey, people regularly use Twitter and Facebook to discuss ideas that are important but don't get into the headlines. So last Friday I opened my first personal Twitter account. I did it illegally. On Thursday night, March 20th, Turkey became the fourth country in the world to block Twitter. It wasfollowing the example of Egypt, Venezuela, and Iran, all of whom tried to block social media networks during protests and scandals. The court-ordered ban came 10 days before local elections are to take place and hours after Prime Minister Erdoan said, Twitter Mwitter, we will root them all out, in a public rally. The Twitter block also followed a set of laws that placed censorship on the internet in Turkey.

Freedom of speech and the right to information are basic human rights and should never be compromised. In countries like Turkey, having an independent forum for people to discuss information and ideas is especially important.

[caption id="attachment_25099" align="alignnone" width="600"]A dove that visited the office of Greenpeace Turkey on the day the Twitter ban was passed. A dove was rescued outside the Greenpeace Turkey office on the day ban was passed. It was known around the office as Twitter bird before being recovering and being released.[/caption] NGOs like Greenpeace regularly challenge governments and corporations on environmental and human rights issues. We rely on social media platforms like Twitter to raise awareness about these issues and to urge people to take action. The Government has shut down Twitter as a whole, citing a pending civilian court case. The enforcement of the Internet censorship law is an indicator of a much larger problem of limits on expression. This is unacceptable and its not how a democratic country like Turkey should work.
So far the ban on Twitter has been counter-productive. Many people have found ways around it, using a mix of tech fixes. Twitter is being used more than ever.
But as the public finds ways through the government's blocks, the government continues to respond by shutting them down. Just a few hours ago, a court decision was passed in Ankara ordering the Governments ban on Twitter be suspended. But Turkeys telecommunications authority may still object to the ruling. We truly hope that the ban will now be lifted and that the Internet censorship laws will be amended to include provisions for the freedom of speech and expression.

You can sign and share our petition to Turkish President Abdullah Gl here. These rights cannot be compromised if Turkey is to be a free and democratic country.

For now, please follow me @esitko1 and Greenpeace Mediterranean @greenpeace_med for updates.

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