The number of websites blocked in Turkey is approaching 68,000 with the recent addition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s official site, as well as specific pages from the country’s most popular Internet forums.
The latest bans came after the government appealed to a local court, citing blasphemy laws. The Feb. 27 ruling of the Ankara Gölbaşı Civil Court of Peace came soon after the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB), a government body, filed a criminal complaint.
The ruling imposes a blanket ban on the websites of Charlie Hebdo and Turkey’s first atheism association, while blocking individual pages of Ekşi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary) and İnci Sözlük (Pearl Dictionary), two hugely popular forums, as well as pages on news website T24, which recently published the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
The court imposed sanctions on a total of 49 websites, ruling that they “humiliated the religious values of the people.”
In its criminal complaint, the TİB claimed that “insults against religious and holy values could breach public peace.” It enforced the court’s ruling for many of the targeted websites on March 3, although it acted quicker for a number of others.
Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code stipulates prison sentences for blasphemy, as well as “provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them.” Linguist Sevan Nişanyan was sentenced in May 2013 to 13.5 months in prison for a blog post and world-renowned pianist Fazıl Say was sentenced to 10 months in jail for a tweet, both for violating Article 216.
Atheism Association Spokesperson Onur Romano issued a statement on March 3, inviting people to visit ateizmdernegi.org or ateizmdernegi.org.tr, two mirror domains that are still accessible in Turkey.
“They haven’t told us what exactly we did wrong according to the law. Please take a look and tell us what we did wrong,” Romano said.
67,600 and counting
Although it is the first digital ban targeting the Atheism Association, which is less than a year old, other “convicts” have previously experienced similar sanctions.
Ekşi Sözlük and İnci Sözlük, two online dictionaries in which any user can send not-always-objective-nor-factual entries, have been routinely targeted by Turkish authorities. Ekşi Sözlük was blocked in 2007 and İnci Sözlük in 2011.
Certain pages of Charlie Hebdo’s website, on the other hand, had been blocked in Turkey for hosting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Jan. 14, soon after 12 of its employees were murdered at the magazine’s headquarters in Paris.
More than 67,600 websites are currently blocked in Turkey, according to the independent monitoring website, Engelli Web.
In 2014, the TİB blocked 22,645 websites without a court order, according to the Human Rights Association’s (İHD) latest report citing Engelli Web.
Since Ankara imposed or threatened to impose blanket bans on Facebook and Twitter, both social media platforms have been complying with the requests of Turkish officials to remove or withhold controversial content, whether or not there is a court ruling.