(Istanbul) – The Turkish government’s decision to close down YouTube by administrative order is a disastrous move for freedom of expression and the right to access information in Turkey. The government similarly closed down Twitter on March 21. The restrictions violate Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law and domestic law.
The closure of YouTube by a decision of Turkey’s Telecommunications Communication Directorate came shortly after two leaked conversations were posted on the site. The conversations purported to be the foreign minister, his undersecretary, the head of the National Intelligence Agency, and deputy chief of staff of the Turkish Armed Forces discussing Turkey’s Syria policy.
“The decision to close down a whole website because of some content is arbitrary, disproportionate, and a flagrant violation of free speech and the right to access information online,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at Human Rights Watch. “The order blocking YouTube should be reversed immediately, and access to Twitter restored without delay.”
Twitter was blocked following three court rulings on particular content and accounts. While an Ankara administrative court ordered a stay of execution on the order on March 26, the Telecommunications Communication Directorate has yet to implement the court order by unblocking the site.
Users of both sites in Turkey have circumvented the blocking orders by means of proxy sites, although some proxy sites have also been blocked. The Twitter block has drawn widespread international criticism, including from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, the European Union, and the United States government.
In February the Turkish government adopted changes to its already restrictive Internet law, giving the Telecommunications Directorate further power to block particular content.
On December 18, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled, in the case of Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey, that blocking Google Sites in Turkey violated the right to freedom of expression. A Turkish court had ordered the complete blocking of Google Sites because of one person’s post. The European Court found that Turkey’s legal framework was inadequate and did not prevent abuses and arbitrary application of blocking measures. YouTube has also been blocked in Turkey in the past, in the period between 2007 and 2010.
“The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2012 against Turkey’s practice of blocking websites, but the government has completely ignored the court’s judgment, choosing instead to impose greater restrictions on its citizens’ access to the Internet,” Sinclair-Webb said.