Turkish government bans over 100,000 web pages

A worrying number of websites and pages have been banned by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to an article written by the Hürriyet daily’s Faruk Bildirici on Tuesday.

“With the blocking orders, stories are lost and freedom of the press and expression is undermined. Unfortunately, this situation is being silently absorbed by media outlets and the ever rising number of bans is gradually being normalised,” wrote Bildirici in his article.

According to a recent report prepared by the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) information and communications department, titled “Turkey’s Internet Access Problem,” the Turkish government censors YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Wikipedia and various other sites. The report also considered “indirect bans” as well as “violations of the right to access the Internet.”

Bildirici said the CHP was unable to get a response to its questions on access bans from Turkey’s Internet watchdog, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), which can remove and ban most links.

The BTK is the entity that implements rulings given by prosecutors and courts on “suspicious publications,” while the head of the BTK has the authority to ban websites that include content involving child abuse, obscenity or prostitution, as well as removing content based on “national security, protection of the public order, prevention of criminal activity and protection of general health.”

However, the numbers provided by the Association of Access Providers (ESB), the entity that implements orders to ban issued by the Penal Courts of Peace and public offices, show the severity of the situation.

According to data given by ESB, some 1,559 items of content were removed up to Dec. 1, 2015. Some 18,688 web links were removed up to Dec. 31, 2016. More than 50,000 addresses were removed before December 2017.

Procedures were conducted on 158,683 links up to 2017. More than 36,000 addresses had been banned as of Dec. 31, 2015 and over 86,000 addresses had been banned as of December 2016. Since December 2017, nearly 100,000 addresses were made unreachable. In 2017 ministries as well as other government departments issued orders to ban a total of 382 items of contents.

“Considering that 2018 is not even included in these numbers, the fact that more than 100,000 items of content have been removed from the Internet so far shows us the severity of the situation and the extent of the threat faced by digital journalism in Turkey,” wrote Bildirici.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 254 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 8, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 62 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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