Online content primarily concerning gov’t corruption, irregularities blocked in Turkey in February

Turkish authorities issued censorship decisions to block access to online content primarily involving allegations of corruption and irregularities implicating public officials as well as people and organizations close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) last month, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Free Web Turkey platform.

Free Web Turkey, which monitors and fights online censorship, announced on Wednesday that out of the 866 URLs blocked by 29 court decisions, 680 contained news reports, 186 were social media posts and three were domains.

Some of the censored news concerned AKP vice chairperson Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, İstanbul MP Rabia İlhan Kalender and former lawmaker Ravza Kavakçı Kan, who all went overseas on scholarships valued at nearly TL 78 million ($2.4 million), funded by the İstanbul Municipality when it was run by the AKP.

Ekrem İmamoğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) ended the years-long rule of the AKP in İstanbul by twice defeating the party’s candidate for mayor in the 2019 local elections.

Among the censored social media posts were those criticizing the government and former environment, urbanization and climate change minister Murat Kurum, who is currently running for İstanbul mayor as the candidate of the ruling AKP. The criticism came after a landslide at a gold mine in the eastern Erzincan buried nine workers under toxic debris on February 13.

The mine had previously been declared safe from landslides in environmental impact assessments conducted during Kurum’s tenure as the minister.

Aside from the news articles and social media posts, live streaming platforms Twitch and Kick were also censored due to “illegal gambling and terrorist financing,” in addition to Jiangzaitoon, an LGBT-themed manga website.

Out of the 866 URLs, 781 were blocked on the grounds of “violation of personal rights,” while 82 URLs were blocked for “national security and the preservation of public order.”

Meanwhile, the demand for virtual private networks (VPNs) saw an increase of 99 percent in Turkey in 2023, Free Web Turkey reported on Wednesday, citing a study by Techopedia.

Due to the government control over traditional media outlets, Turks seeking alternative sources of information often turn to social media. These platforms, however, have been obligated to appoint Turkey representatives and comply with court orders for content removal under a recently enacted social media law which threatened them with advertising bans and bandwidth reductions.

In late 2023 the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) banned access to 16 VPN providers frequently used to circumvent government censorship.

Turkey had a score of 30 out of 100 points and was classified among the “not free” countries in the 2023 Freedom on the Net report published last October by the US-based nonprofit Freedom House.

The country was ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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