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Turkey: Social media sites restored after blanket blocking

People use computers at an internet cafe in Ankara, Turkey, 6 April 2015
People use computers at an internet cafe in Ankara, Turkey, 6 April 2015

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 7 April 2015.

Access was restored to social media sites Facebook, Twitter and YouTube last night (Monday 6 April), after being blocked for much of that day. A Turkish court ordered the blocking of the sites for 'national security' reasons, after a photograph of a prosecutor with a gun to his head was widely circulated on social media. The hostage takers released the photo after the prosecutor was taken hostage last week; the prosecutor was subsequently killed in a gunfight during the rescue operation. Facebook immediately complied with the Turkish court order and removed the photograph, while Twitter and YouTube initially resisted the order, causing them to be blocked for most of the day, until they complied. The judge said in his order that certain websites were engaging in 'terrorist propaganda'.

"Blanket bans of social media sites are never a proportionate restriction on freedom of expression, no matter what the justification. Even when there are legitimate reasons for restricting expression, targeted measures should always be taken so as not to restrict the right more generally," said Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19.

"Indeed blanket bans of social media sites are also often ineffective and achieve the opposite effect - yesterday the hashtag: 'TwitterIsBlockedInTurkey' was trending worldwide.

"The Turkish government's willingness to order blanket bans is even more worrying given amendments to the telecoms law passed by the parliament in March, which allow the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate to block websites without a prior court order, upon a request from the Prime Minister or a cabinet minister.

"The amendments will also allow the Telecommunications Directorate to prosecute anyone who has created or helped to circulate content considered harmful to national security. A very similar amendment to the internet law was already rejected by the constitutional court in October."

It is not clear how many people were still able to access Twitter from Turkey using VPNs despite the ban; however when Turkey banned twitter in March last year, use of the site dramatically increased in Turkey, as users sought other ways to access the site.

In the last half of 2014, 90% of worldwide requests for removal of content to Twitter originated with the Turkish government, according to Twitter's transparency report in early 2015.

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