No freedom of speech in Turkey even for the robots

A robot, that interrupted the speech of Ahmet Arslan, Turkish Minister of Transport and Communications, during a technology event in Ankara, was first silenced and later “obliged to apologise” on Wednesday.

The white toddler-sized robot named “Sanbot” which was made in China, was the co-presenter for an event in Ankara to mark Safer Internet Day and was programmed to welcome guests on stage. But as Minister Aslan held forth on the importance of a secure web, interventions came from an unexpected source as 36 inch tall Sanbot went off script. ‘Speak slowly! I don’t understand what you are saying! What are you talking about?’ the robot asked Arslan.

The minister, whose portfolio ranges from the internet to Turkey’s vast transportation projects, smiled as the audience burst into laughter when they realised the source of the interruption. Arslan at first tried to laugh off the interjection but finally told Sanbot’s handlers to deal with the misfiring robot so he could carry on.

‘Dear friends, it seems clear that the robot needs to be put under control, please can whoever is in charge do what is necessary!’ he said. The robot was later muted and the minister pressed on with his speech.  “Sanbot” was immediately muted and Turkish media reported that Sanbot was “correctly formatted” after Minister Arslan finished his speech.

Following the scandal a reporter from Turkish pro-government broadcaster Kanal D interviewed the robot on Wednesday and asking why it interrupted the Minister Arslan’s speech. “It was a mistake. I’m so sorry,” Sanbot said.

Meanwhile, Pro ITS Smart Intersection Systems General Manager Coşkun Aydemir said the robot was still young. “It’s not at an age to understand who it responded to. It’s only three years old,” said Aydemir.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

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