April 8, 2015

Turkish Government in fresh bid to control social media

A gunman poses with Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz after he was taken hostage in his office in a court house in Istanbul

A gunman poses with Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz after he was taken hostage in his office in a court house in Istanbul

Turkey stepped up its campaign to control social media by banning Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from showing images of a prosecutor who was taken hostage and killed last week.

While the companies complied, Facebook and Twitter said they would appeal orders by a Turkish court to remove the images, which were deemed to encourage terrorism. YouTube can confirm that it’s no longer blocked in Turkey, the Google unit said in an e-mailed statement. YouTube had complied with the court order and was planning to appeal that order, it said.

The social-media services were blocked or faced deadlines to remove the images, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The bans by President’s government are part of a larger initiative to strengthen control over the Internet started in December 2013, after hundreds of tape recordings allegedly showing political corruption were posted on social media. The EU has criticized Turkish government efforts to limit Web access as an attempt to curb freedom of speech.

“Turkey is really damaging itself by laws that allow prosecutors to shut down Twitter, Facebook and YouTube,” Carl Bildt, formerly Sweden’s prime minister and a champion of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, said in a tweet.

The court ordered websites to remove photos of a prosecutor who was taken hostage in a courtroom by leftist militants, then died of wounds sustained during a police raid to free him. Several newspapers and websites published pictures of the prosecutor with a gun to his head, defying a government ban and outraging Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.


Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, said the ruling was demanded by a prosecutor who equated the distribution of images of his slain colleague with terrorist propaganda. He said the court ruling was “born of necessity” and wouldn’t infringe on civil liberties.

Shares of Turkcell, the country’s largest mobile operator, fell as much as 1.8 percent in Istanbul after the announcement. If access to some social media websites remains barred for a long time, the ban is “definitely going to have an impact on mobile data revenues,” Toygun Onaran, an analyst at Teb Investment, a brokerage in Istanbul, said by phone. “Most of the usage is coming from social websites.”

Davutoglu’s ruling AK Party in March pushed through a law that lets the government block websites considered a threat to national security without a court order. The law received parliamentary approval even after Turkey’s top court rescinded similar legislation last year as unconstitutional.

Erdogan has yet to approve the new Internet law.

National Newspapers

A prosecutor has started an investigation against four national newspapers for printing images of the slain prosecutor. Davutoglu called the distribution of the photos “unacceptable.”

The social media ban is “another disproportionate response restricting press freedom, free speech,” Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said on Twitter.

The court order comes as no surprise to investors, who are more concerned about Turkey’s general political environment than the blockage of Twitter, according to Nicholas Spiro, managing director at Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London.

“Turkey’s international reputation was tarnished quite some time ago,” Spiro said by e-mail.