Turkish authorities ordered access to 166 websites, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, to be blocked after photos of a hostage crisis that ended with the death of a government prosecutor were circulated in the social media platforms.
On 31 March 2015, in Istanbul’s courthouse, two militants took Mehmet Selim Kiraz hostage. He was the prosecutor in the controversial case of the killing of a teenage boy, who died after being hit in the head by a teargas canister fired by the police during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. After the eight-hour hostage drama at a courthouse, and an intervention by special police forces, Kiraz was rescued but succumbed to his injuries later in hospital. The two captors, with alleged links to the outlawed far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), were killed by security forces.
Just hours after the kidnapping, photos of one of the militants holding a gun to the hostage’s head were posted to Twitter, allegedly by the captors, from an account that was suspended shortly thereafter. They began immediately circulating in the platform, and were also published by several Turkish newspapers and news sites.
During the incident, TV journalists reporting from outside the courthouse were forced by authorities to cease live reporting. The following day, on 1 April, several media organisations who had published the images were denied accreditation to the funeral of Kiraz. The government accused them for “spreading terrorist propaganda”.
On 6 April, access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, along with 163 other websites and specific links to the stories published by Turkish newspapers, was blocked in Turkey, on the basis of a court ruling. The ban on Facebook was lifted rapidly, supposedly because it complied with the ruling before the expiration of the four-hour deadline imposed by the court. By the evening of 6 April, also YouTube and Twitter were accessible again, as the platforms had removed the content that the court deemed illegal. The photos could still, however, easily be found online, and a number of international news sites had already published it in their articles talking about the hostage drama and online censorship.
In recent years, online censorship has frequently raised concerns in Turkey. In March 2014, Twitter and YouTube were blocked, after recordings that raised allegations of corruption towards the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and some of the members of his cabinet were posted to the social media platforms. The ban was lifted after the High Court ruled it unconstitutional.
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