Turkey recently started a new digital crackdown on critical and independent media. However, Turkish government has been involved in ‘online security’ policies as far back as 2007 with the law numbered 5651, Law Regulating Digital Publications which has very quickly expanded from its original aim and started targeting political dissent and criticism. The law originally had been designed to punish those involved in child pornography, yet was later expanded to also protect national symbols at the first draft.
Over the years, the law numbered 5651 has experienced several revisions which always made the law even worse than it has been. The original version of the law foresaw a child-protective, mature content filter that would be compulsory for all users and everyone would have to pay extra for this “service” by the state. An estimated number of more than 90.000 websites have been blocked due to this law and many keep getting added on a daily basis. Turkey still is by far the worst country in filing content removal requests from world internet giants such as Twitter, Google and Facebook.
Since the general elections that ended 13-year-governing AK Party’s single-party rule on June 8th, the government has started military operations against own citizens. So far death toll is countable by hundreds, and independent/critical media platforms are being subjected to censorship due to government intentions to control flow of information. Over a hundred news agency and newspaper websites have been closed down by government’s telecommunications authority and decision of Gölbaşı courts in Ankara. The court mandates blocking access to websites do not even mention a reason of the decision. However, due to latest update of the law numbered 5651, based on the article 8, the prime minister may request blocking access to a website due to national security reasons, and there is no further questioning necessary for the court.
The websites that are blocked appear with a line stating that it is a precaution against further escalation of violence; making up a new category of ‘preemptive censorship’ in the thick book of repressing media in the country. Majority of the censored media platforms have been quite active in the regions where military operations are taking place.
Even though the officials of the censored media platforms apply to courts demanding a reason for blocking of access, they return without any answers. Experts state that this proves a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens as well as international agreements, of which Turkey is a part.
Currently thousands of online platforms that have political criticism are officially banned in Turkey, yet many users circumvent the censorship mechanisms, thus reaching the sites. Yet, government’s plans seem to go a step further nowadays. In the past few weeks, when the military operations in the Kurdish dominated southeast have been at its highest, phone lines and internet access as a whole has been shut down and the cities lost communication with the world. When news finally reached out of the city borders, bodies were being counted and photos of ruined districts were revealed as well as short videos of journalists getting harassed by special forces personnel.