In a promising development amid increasing online censorship in Turkey, the country’s Constitutional Court has found rights violations in the banning of access to the accounts of 62 X users between 2015 and 2023, Turkish Minute reported, citing a lawyer.
Hatice Yıldız announced on X that the top court found a violation of freedom of expression in the banning of the Twitter accounts of 62 people including her client, lawyer Levent Mazılıgüney. Some journalists are also included among the applicants.
The court also ruled for the payment of TL 3.4 million ($113,000) in damages to all the applicants in total in addition to legal fees of TL 1.1 million ($36,000) and other court-related expenses.
Yıldız said some of the applicants did not seek damages, or else the amount would have been higher. She said it is the Turkish taxpayers who will pay the damages.
“This money will be paid by everyone. As a country, we are paying for the cost of not abiding by the law,” said the lawyer.
Mazılıgüney, who spoke to the Serbestiyet news website, said “taxes paid by low-income people” will be used for the payment of the damages to the applicants.
He said the members of the judiciary who made those unlawful decisions banning access to the X accounts of the applicants including him should be made to pay for the damages themselves.
Mazılıgüney will be paid TL 20,000 in non-pecuniary damages by the government.
Turkish courts frequently ban access to people’s X accounts when they post tweets that mostly include criticism of the government. Instead of banning access to a specific tweet, courts ban the X accounts, prompting their users to lose access to their followers and open new accounts. The rulings are generally made by criminal courts of peace.
Reports by the Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD) reveal that hundreds of thousands of websites and online content have been blocked in Turkey in recent years, under the guise of protecting personal rights.
Turkey, where internet freedom has steadily declined over the past decade, ranks among the “not free” countries concerning online freedoms, according to a report released by the US-based Freedom House in October.
In a similar development earlier this week, the Constitutional Court annulled a controversial article of law that authorized the government to remove or restrict access to online content on the grounds that it “violates personal rights.
Article 9 of Law No. 5651, often criticized for its broad and ambiguous language, has been a tool for the government to suppress internet journalism by citing personal rights violations.
The top court found that the power granted to Turkey’s Telecommunications Authority (BTK) to unilaterally remove content or block access was unconstitutional. The ruling also emphasized that such restrictions on content significantly infringed upon the fundamental freedoms of expression and the press.