The Arab Spring, the Green Revolution in Iran, President Obama’s historic bid for office in 2008—all are key examples of how the internet can be used as a game-changing social and political tool.
The United Nations recently recognized that fact by adopting a resolution on “Online Human Rights.” In a press release praising the initiative, the U.S. State Department explained that the “landmark resolution makes clear that all individuals are entitled to the same human rights and fundamental freedoms online as they are offline, and all governments must protect those rights regardless of the medium.”
Two of the main proponents of the measure were Sweden and the United States. The State Department press release cited three countries for their active efforts and leadership in support of passage of the resolution: Nigeria, Tunisia and…Turkey?
Yes, my friends, Turkey—the #1 jailer of journalists, a front-runner in free speech violations, and repeat offender when it comes to internet censorship—gets an inexplicable shout-out for helping pass an online rights resolution.
The reference could not be more absurd.
Turkey has a long history of blocking the free flow of internet information within its own borders. Its leaders have banned access to YouTube at least 11 times since the website opened, and sued them in Turkish courts under the infamous Turkish Penal Code Article 301 and its related law dealing with internet repression known as “Law 5651.”
Turkey’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK), which is their equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S., tried to impose its own internet monitoring and restriction system, which has now become “optional” after widespread public protest. The government agency offers the “family” option and the “children” option, which limit the amount of content to those specific subcategories.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has put Turkey on its 2012 Internet Enemies “Surveillance” list, explains that “the filtering solution is inappropriate and a threat to online freedom of expression as the European Union Court of Justice recently affirmed, since it increases over-blocking risks. The decision as to what is, or is not, ‘objectionable’ must be left to families, not to the state.”
RSF continues to note that “as of Feb. 10, 2012, the website engelliweb.com had tallied 15,596 sites suspended by the authorities, either by court order, or by decision of Turkey’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK)—a number double what it was last year (see the Turkey chapter of the 2011 “Enemies of the Internet” report).” According to Engelliweb.com, that number has increased to 20,226 in the past 5 months alone.
Those sites include some 15 supposedly pro-Kurdish news websites that were banned by court order in 2011, including Firat News (new URL: www.firatnews.ws), gundem-online.net, and welat.org. Among the topics considered taboo and therefore censored are criticisms of Ataturk and discussions regarding the treatment of minorities (most notably Kurds), explained RSF. Many video upload websites are also blocked altogether, such as Vimeo and Megaupload.
Why would the State Department, in the face of all of this internet repression, cite Turkey for its assistance on a resolution for online freedom? This action undermines the very meaning of the resolution. If Turkey wants to be praised for its leadership on this front, it should take the right steps, by changing its own laws and repressive actions, starting with abolishing Law 5651 and the “family and child” monitoring plans.
Joseph Kazazian is an ANCA Leo Sarkisian Intern, Class of 2012. He was in the Class of 2011 at the University of California Santa Barbara.