By Heini Järvinen

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan appears to have ordered Twitter be blocked in the country, after wiretapped voice recordings and documents apparently showing evidence of corruption the prime minister’s inner circle were leaked via the social media platform. The ban entered into force shortly before midnight on 20 March 2014.

Users trying to access the site were taken to a page with a statement from the telecommunication authority TIB, sub-agency of the BTK, Turkish information and communication technologies authority. The statement cited four court orders as the basis for blocking the social media platform, and stated that the blockage was a “protection measure”.

BTK explained on 21 March that the reason for the ban were complaints by citizens that Twitter was breaching privacy. The access to Twitter was “technically blocked” because the platform had failed to follow the orders to remove links considered illegal, and that the action was in line with court decisions to “avoid the possible future victimisation of citizens”.

The Turkish prime minister has shown increasing hostility towards social media as the elections on 30 March are approaching. “We will wipe out all of these,” Erdogan announced to his supporters at a rally on Thursday 20 March, just hours before the platform was blocked. “The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

The blockage attracted immediately criticism in EU circles and the international community. The EU commissioner on digital affairs, Neelie Kroes, described it “groundless, pointless, cowardly”, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt noted that “Erdogan is not only damaging himself, but his entire nation”, and the head of the European Parliament Martin Schulz urged Erdogan to immediately lift the ban. The U.S. State Department published a statement saying: “We remain very concerned by any suggestion that social media sites could be shut down. Democracies are strengthened by the diversity of public voices.”

Twitter has made no formal statement, but it has reminded its users that they can send Tweets using mobile phone text messaging.

Separately, Turkey is taking part in the EU/US-led “Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online”, which encourages the development of both “voluntary” (outside a specific legal framework) download and upload filtering, to be undertaken by Internet companies on an arbitrary basis. A report of the European Commission on the activities of the alliance pointed to the advanced plans for “cooperation” developed by Turkey. While Turkey was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for its law-based blocking practices, such “voluntary” measures will quite probably outside the reach of the court, as the Convention on Human Rights is binding on States and not private companies. Russia – which was invited to join the Global Alliance – is already using its “child protection” filter to block media outlets.

Turkey blocks Twitter days before vote as PM fights scandal (21.03.2014)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/21/us-turkey-twitter-idUSBREA2K0CB20140321

Blocking of Twitter – “worthy of the most repressive regimes” (21.03.2014)
http://en.rsf.org/turquie-blocking-of-twitter-worthy-of-the-21-03-2014,46030.html

Turkey’s Twitter ban meets immediate EU criticism (21.03.2014)
http://euobserver.com/foreign/123564

EU and US condemn ‘cowardly and pointless’ Twitter ban (21.03.2014)
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/eu-and-us-condemn-cowardly-and-pointless-twitter-ban.aspx?pageID=238&nID=63889&NewsCatID=339

EDRi-gram: Internet censorship and surveillance in Turkey (12.03.2014)
http://edri.org/internet-censorship-surveillance-turkey/

EDRi-gram: The Turkish Government is trying to justify Internet censorship (26.02.2014)
http://edri.org/turkish-govt-strong-net-censorship/