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Netizen Report: Turkey’s Erdogan Fights to Control the Conversation, Online and in Print

Categories: Censorship, Free Expression, Turkey, Netizen Report
Demonstrators bound for Taksim Square in June 2013. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Demonstrators bound for Taksim Square in June 2013. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. 

On Monday, the Turkish government blocked Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook [1] along with 166 other websites to curb the circulation of photos of a hostage crisis that ended with the death of a government prosecutor. This type of censorship has become somewhat routine in Turkey, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government continues to battle both critical speech and the circulation of evidence of corruption via social media. 

Since August elections, more than 70 people have been prosecuted [2] for “insulting” Erdogan, in many cases on social media. During Erdogan's time as prime minister, there were hundreds of such cases. Just prior to the hostage crisis, two prominent cartoonists from the weekly satirical magazine Penguen received 11-month prison sentences for “insulting” the president. And there’s sure more to come: A soon-to-be-passed security law [3] allows authorities to conduct broad-scale censorship and surveillance without prior judicial oversight.

Responding to the latest round of website bans, local experts suggest [4] that the government may not be aiming to stifle social media activity entirely, but rather to demonize certain social platforms, in an effort to draw public attention away from open networks and toward state-controlled media outlets. Internet users and free-expression advocates are meanwhile debating whether U.S.-based social media platforms are making the right choice when they comply with government censorship requests. As Turkish digital rights advocate and Global Voices author Ahmet Sabanci put it [5], “Currently it seems Twitter, Facebook and Google, far from damaging the image of the Turkish state, are actually doing their best to polish it.”

These discussions cannot be isolated from the bigger picture of journalistic censorship in Turkey today. While major US-based social media platforms are facing web censorship due to the controversial photographs, seven large-scale newspapers and websites in Turkey are now under criminal investigation for publishing the same images. Some of these news sites play a critical role in the reporting on political activities and corruption at the local and national levels, but they run on tight budgets and have limited resources to defend themselves in court. While there is little likelihood that blocks on Facebook or Twitter in Turkey will take a heavy toll on these multi-billion dollar companies, the fate of small, independent media outlets inside the country is much less certain.

Is social media regulation on horizon for Venezuela?

Venezuela may be poised [6] to regulate social networks, according to a statement by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and President Nicholas Maduro [7]. Maduro has steadily stepped up [8] regulation of online discourse over the course of his presidency, including arresting citizens [9] for comments made on social media platforms and conducting raids [8] to locate journalists. 

Malaysian cartoonist faces sedition charges

Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, known popularly as Zunar, was charged with nine counts of sedition [10] for posting tweets about the conviction of political opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy, which is illegal in Malaysia. Anwar could serve up to 43 years [11] in jail as a result of the ongoing case, which local law experts and many members of the public believe was politically motivated. After being released on bail, Zunar published a cartoon [12] showing himself in chains but with a brush in his mouth, vowing to “draw until the last drop of ink.” 

Bahraini human rights activist video records himself moments before arrest

Nabeel Rajab was arrested [13] over tweets he wrote regarding the use of torture in the country’s Jaw prison. Rajab is currently appealing a six-month prison sentence he was given for comments he made about ISIS on Twitter, and was jailed for two years for “disrupting public order” after he investigated human rights violations that took place in 2011. This time around, Rajab made a short video of himself explaining his political position while standing at the gate of his home, waiting for authorities to take him into custody.

Snapchat goes transparent

Snapchat published its second transparency report [14], promising to publish future reports on a biannual basis. The report shows that they complied with 92% of the 375 US criminal legal requests they received, including details on the legal terms under which each order was submitted. They complied with 21% of the 28 international government information requests they received. 

Murky details on Obama’s malicious-hacker order

US President Barack Obama signed an executive order [15] that would institute economic sanctions [16] for individuals involved in “significant malicious cyber-enabled activities.” Sanctions could include travel bans and the seizure of funds. The order is intended to target malicious attacks from outside of the country [17] by allowing the United States to identify the perpetrators of cyber attacks who have assets in the United States and have those assets frozen. It is not clear how this policy will be carried out in practice, as such attacks are often impossible to trace to specific individuals. 

Ellery Roberts Biddle [18], Marianne Diaz Hernandez, Arzu Geybullayeva, Hae-in Lim, Ahmet A. Sabancı [19], and Sarah Myers West [20] contributed to this report.

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