Turkey’s block on Twitter is slammed by authors and public figures

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Originally published by Planet Ivy on March 28.

Social media sites in the firing line as the Turkish government tightens its grip on the internet.

Pro-free speech organisation International PEN, along with a host of internationally recognised authors, have penned an open letter published today, which hits out at the draconian attempts of the Turkish government to crack down on freedom of expression.

The letter, with esteemed signatories including Salmon Rushdie and Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, implored the Turkish authorities “not to retreat from democracy and its keystone, freedom of speech; but rather to recognize their obligations under international treaties.”

It comes a week after Turkish users were barred from Twitter, following Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s public address slamming social media: “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others…we will wipe out all of these… We are determined on the issue, regardless of what the world might say.”

Embarrassingly for the Turkish authorities, within hours of the Twitter ban taking place, users had already found a number of ways to circumvent the measures. Turkey passed a new internet law in February, tightening state control and allowing them to shut down sites without a court order. Since then, a number of leaks damaging to the government have hit social media, including an audio clip of a high-level security meeting, prompting the backlash. YouTube was also taken down temporarily in what the state called a “precautionary measure”.

International PEN’s open letter described YouTube and Twitter as “vehicles of expression that give a voice to each and every user regardless of class, religion, ethnicity or political stature,” and described the government’s attempts to censor them as “an unacceptable violation of the right to free speech”.

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Turkish authorities have long had a bad reputation for stifling free expression, and Turkey currently languishes in 154th place out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. Things have seemingly gone from bad to worse in recent years –  after the violent repression of protests between May and July last year, in which more than 3.5 million people were involved, a number of journalists were attacked and arrested with many losing their jobs as a result.

President of English PEN, Maureen Freely told the Guardian: “The real worry, I think, is that Erdoğan now seems to have the power to do whatever he wishes, whenever he wishes.” The Twitter ban is still in place for the foreseeable future and it is not clear how far authorities are prepared to go to assert control over their citizens.

 

Featured image: Alan Hilditch via Flickr Inset image: Herr Toph via Flickr

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