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Authorities urged to ensure YouTube stays unblocked

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges the Turkish authorities to ensure that access to the video-sharing website YouTube remains unblocked. An Ankara court lifted a two-and-a-half-year-old ban on 30 October 2010 but a subsequent court decision could result in it being blocked again. A court in the eastern city of Sivas banned YouTube in May 2008 because of videos deemed to insult the Turkish republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The Turkish public and international community have hailed YouTube's unblocking as good news, as an encouraging first step. Making it inaccessible against would be seen as an obsolete and ridiculous move, especially as many Turkish Internet users are able to circumvent the censorship and access the site.

"We urge the authorities to choose the road of guaranteeing online free expression and, in this spirit, to overhaul the Internet law to prevent more arbitrary blocking and put an end to the censorship that currently affects more than 5,000 websites," Reporters Without Borders said, noting that YouTube was one of Turkey's five most visited sites before the ban.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's media freedom representative, Dunja Mijatovic, welcomed the news. Turkish President Abdullah Gül had condemned YouTube's blocking in a post on Twitter, saying it was holding back Turkey's integration into the rest of the world.
YouTube was made accessible after the videos criticizing Atatürk were removed by a small Turkish company based in Germany, International Licensing Services, using YouTube's automated copyright protection system.

Representatives of Google, which owns YouTube, later said the videos had been reinstated because they did not violate any copyright. They nonetheless remained inaccessible in Turkey although visible in the rest of the world. YouTube had refused to remove the offending videos in 2008 on the grounds that Turkish law did not apply to users worldwide.

A new case has meanwhile complicated matters. On 2 November an Ankara court placed a new ban on YouTube as a result of a legal action by Deniz Baykal, a politician who recently had to resign as head of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), after a video said to show him in a bedroom with a female CHP politician circulated online and appeared on YouTube.

The court ordered the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB), Turkey's Internet regulator, to get YouTube to remove the video or, failing that, to block access.

The YouTube controversy should not eclipse the extent of online blocking and censorship in Turkey, or the arrests and prosecutions of bloggers and netizens. Thousands of websites are blocked, in most cases for criticising Atatürk or the army, for perceived attacks on the nation's "dignity" or for referring to Turkey's Kurdish and Armenian minorities, taboo subjects in Turkey.

Turkey's Internet legislation is extremely harsh. Law 5651 on the Prevention of Crime Committed in the Information Technology Domain, which was adopted by parliament in May 2007, empowers a public prosecutor to ban access to any website within 24 hours if part of its content is considered "liable to incite suicide, pedophilia, drug usage, obscenity or prostitution" of if it "contradicts the law of Atatürk." Law 5816 also punishes "crimes against Atatürk."

Nonetheless, it is often unclear under what authority measures are taken. Law 5651 did not apply to some 200 cases in which court orders blocking websites were issued in 2009.

Three online journalists in the southeastern province of Adiyaman – Haci Bogatekin, Özgür Bogatekin and Cumali Badur – were given jail sentences in March 2010. They appealed against their convictions and are still free pending the outcome of their appeals.

Baris Yarkadas of the online newspaper Gercek Gündem (Real Agenda) is due to appear in court again on a charge of insulting Nur Birgen, the head of the Institute for Forensic Medicine's expertise section, for referring to allegations of human rights violations that NGOs have made against her.

Turkey was listed as a "country under surveillance" for the first time in the latest "Enemies of the Internet" report which Reporters Without Borders released in March 2010.

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