Turkish Authorities on Blocking Binge as Political Tensions Rise

Demotix image from 8 February 2014 by Görkem Keser. Hundreds of people gather on Istiklal Street to protest against the new internet censorship laws approved by Turkish government. Police used water cannon and teargas to disperse the protesters. ID: 3883727.

Demotix image from 8 February 2014 by Görkem Keser. Hundreds of people gather on Istiklal Street to protest against the new internet censorship laws approved by Turkish government. Police used water cannon and teargas to disperse the protesters. ID: 3883727.

Tensions in Turkish politics have reached new heights this summer. This is easy to see just by looking at the Internet, where the ruling government controlled by the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) has begun blocking profiles and news websites en masse.

After inconclusive elections in June, the four parties of Parliament now have until August 23 to create a ruling coalition or face another round of elections in autumn. Among them is the pro-Kurdish HDP party whose emergence dismantled the ruling majority once held by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan AKP party.

The prospect of the parties managing to form a coalition is extremely unlikely, particularly in the wake of a July bombing attack in which an ISIS suicide attacker killed 33 citizens in Suruç, in the east of the country. HDP and AKP traded accusations over the incident and the government has since pumped up its anti-terror rhetoric.

In the meantime, Turkey has gone headfirst into the conflict in Iraq and Syria, a decision likely driven by AKP's need to improve on their showing in the June poll as coalition talks stall.

These newspapers are ‘crime machines’

The first wave of website-blocking came shortly after Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç's statements on Habertürk TV on Press Freedom Day, July 24.

Arınç said:

A number of newspapers, including Özgür Gündem and Evrensel, are crime machines. If [government officials] would file complaints against them, they would be overwhelmed with penalties. They use expressions that praise the acts of a terrorist organization. But if we were to file cases against them, they would use [the cases] against us. They would keep writing the same things.

Özgür Gündem and Evrensel are well-known Turkish newspapers. They are both openly leftist and supportive of HDP as well as greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish-populated regions generally.

While it was primarily ISIS that drew Ankara into the war, Turkish military operations have largely targeted bases belonging to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Northern Iraq, even killing ethnic Kurdish civilians living in the region's Zergele village.

Soon after Arınç spoke on July 25, 96 websites were blocked inside Turkey, including the websites of news outlets like ANF (Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê – Fırat News Agency) , DİHA (Dicle Haber Ajansı – Dicle News Agency), ETHA (Etkin Haber Ajansı – Etkin News Agency), local online newspapers like Yüksekova Haber and unionist news site Sendika.org.

All of these outlets were strongly critical of AKP and the military strikes in the Kurdish-occupied Middle East. Also on July 25, a court order asking Twitter to suspend a list of accounts in Turkey began circulating online. It is not clear whether Twitter complied with the request. The list can be seen in the tweet below.

Twitter accounts which court ordered to be blocked…

As Efe Kerem Sözeri pointed out on Medium, the latest bout of mass censorship offers more evidence that Turkey's once-independent judiciary is coming further under AKP control and delivering verdicts without due consideration.

The Ankara court, which reviewed and approved government’s ban on 96 websites, apparently found nothing wrong to ban a non-existing website “ksp-dcs.com” and ban ANF twice in the list provided by the government. It is hard to assume that the court has seriously considered the public’s right to information or individual freedom of speech whatsoever.

Second wave of blocking

The government has shown no signs of letting up in its censorship attempts. For example on July 26, sendika.tv, the alternative domain of sendika.org, was also blocked. News agencies DİHA and ANF had separate domains connected to their operations quickly shut down.

Moreover, pro-AKP social media accounts have been publishing manipulated screenshots and sharing articles that discredit these outlets.

Here, a pro-government tweep bashed the leftist Özgür Gündem newspaper, claiming that they forged photos of civilian deaths in Zergele to make the Turkish military look bad.

Won't we apply any sanctions to Özgür Gündem? Nobody is going to condemn them? Will they just get away with the crime they committed?

Opposition-minded journalists have also suffered attacks on their personal accounts on social media.

Finally, on August 10, another news site disappeared from the Web. This time, Turkish telecommunications regulator TİB censored Dağ Medya, one of Turkey's best-known data journalism websites, citing “administrative measures.”

The website was banned without a court order or explanation according to Law 5651, Turkey's notorious censorship bill, which came into force last year.

The latest assault

Currently all these websites remain banned in Turkey. Although cyber rights activists such as Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altıparmak are pushing to lift the bans via legal channels, another wave of censorship seems more likely.

Censorship has a deep impact on Turkish society. US-based Turkish sociologist Zeynep Tüfekçi recently tweeted:

Kuşburnu, a digital rights activist working under a pseudonym, has been documenting the pro-government smear campaign against Kurdish and leftist media. The activist also recently published an up-to-date list of all the websites that have been blocked in Turkey since Bülent Arınç's speech.

They are as follows:

- Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firate anfajans.com
– BestaNûçe ANF ve DİHA Haberleri bestanuce3.com, bestanuce4.com
– Dağ Medya dagmedya.net
– Devrimci Haber devrimcihaber.com
– Bitlis Aktüel bitlisaktuel.com
– Denge Azad dengeazad.com
– Güncel Yorum guncelyorum-canadil.blogspot.com.tr
– Ajansa Nûçeyan a Dicleye dihanews.net
– Türkistan İslam Bülteni turkistanbulteni.com
– Ümmet-i İslam ummetislam.net
– Newededersim newededersim.com
– Haber Dersim rojamunzur.com
– Ajansa Kurdî haberajansakurdi.com
– Halkınsesi TV halkinsesitv-2.blogspot.gr
– Amed Times amedtimes.com
– Kurdistan Haber Postası kurdistanhaberpostasi.blogspot.com.tr
– Med Nûçe mednuce.com
– Öteki Haber otekihaber.blogspot.com.tr
– Peyama Azadî peyamaazadi.com
– Etkin Haber Ajansı etha.com.tr
– Xqw News xqwnews.com (Sunucu erişimi yok.)
– Ajansa Nûçeyen Kurdî Haber – ajansakurdi.net
– Ajansa Nûçeyan Fırate ajansanucayanfirate.com (Sunucu erişimi yok.)
– Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firate anfturkce.net
– Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firate anf.com (Site yapım aşamasında.)
– Avaşîn avasinweb.com
– Avesta Kurd avestakurd.net
– Avrupa Halkın Sesi avrupahalkinsesi.com (Sunucu erişimi yok.)
– Azadiya Welat azadiyawelat.net (Site yapım aşamasında.)
– Azady azady.nl
– BasNews basnews.com
– Besta Nûçe bestanuce.org
– Besta Nûçe bestanuce1.com
– Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firate firatnews.com
– Anha hawarnews.com
– Ajansa Kurdî ku.ajansakurdi.com
– Kurdinfo Platform kurdinfo.com
– Cizre Postası cizrepostasi.com
– Dicle Fırat Haber Ajansı diclefirathaber.com
– Ajansa Nûçeyan a Dicleye diclehaber.com
– Kurdish Question kurdishquestion.com
– Kurdistan Aktuel kurdistan-aktuel.org
– Kurdistan Aktuel kurdistanaktuel.com
– Navenda Lekolinen lekolin.net
– Navenda Lekolinen lekolin.org
– Gelawej m.gelawej.net
– Kurdistan Media kurdistanmedia.com
– The Kurdistan Tribune kurdistantribune.com
– Kurdiu kurdiu.org
– Rojeva Kurdistan rojevakurdistan.org
– Rojhelat rojhelat.info
– Rojname rojname.com
– Rojnews rojnews.net
– Rûdaw rudaw.net
– Sendika sendika.org
– Sendika sendika.tv
– American Kurdish Information Network kurdistan.org
– Kurdistan Post kurdistan-post.eu
– Kurdistan Haber Portalı kurdistan24.info (Site yapım aşamasında.)
– Maverahaber maverahaber.net (Alan adı durdurulmuş.)
– Özgür Gündem ozgur-gundem.com
– Pirtûkxane pirtukxane.org
– Rast Haber rasthaber.net
– Rojaciwan rojaciwan.com
– Serokatî rojbas1.wordpress.com
– Serokatî rojbas2.wordpress.com
– The Sham News theshamnews.com
– Risgari Online tr.rizgari.com
– Ümmet-i İslam ummetislam.info
– Xendan xendan.org
– Yeni Demokratik Gençlik yenidemokratgenclik.net, ydg-online.com
– Yeni Özgür Politika yeniozgurpolitika.info
– Yeni Özgür Politika yeniozgurpolitika.org
– Ypg News ypgnews.blogspot.com
– Yüksekova Haber yuksekovahaber.com
– Inca News incanews.com

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