Turkish gov’t continues to accuse Wikipedia of ‘manipulation,’ keeps site’s ban in Turkey

The Turkey’s Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) on Wednesday has attacked Wikipedia, charging the online encyclopedia with manipulating the public over recent remarks by the latter’s executive director on a ban by Turkish government.

Pro-government HaberTürk daily has written on Wednesday that Wikimedia’s director Katherine Maher told the paper that articles that provoke Turkish government to block Wikipedia in April 2017 were now “redacted.” “We are not sure why the ban is still enforced,” Maher said according to the Wednesday-published interview. “Turkish authorities may not have checked the latest versions of these content.”

Maher said they were taken by surprise by the move. “We received a statement on a Friday afternoon. Before we could respond, the website was blocked [in Turkey],” Maher said. “The statement requested that we remove two articles but no reason was shown as to why we should do that,” she added. “We do not remove an article just because it bothers some parties. We are against censorship,” Maher said.

Maher swiftly denied the story on her Twitter page. Answering a question by a user about the report, she said it was “absolutely” not true. “Those are not accurate quotes,” she said.

On the same day as Habertürk’s interview with Maher, BTK has issued a statement saying that Wikipedia was “continuing to publish illegal content.” “Having examined the content, we see that it insists on publishing illegal content,” the BTK said in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday. “Upon the removal of content that has insulting qualities targeting Turkey, the authorities could take the necessary steps,” the statement added.

“It is seen that statements [made by Wikipedia] are made to divert the public and create a false perception,” the BTK also said. “The illegal content is being examined daily,” the Turkish official communication watchdog said, accusing Wikipedia of slandering the country.

Articles “state-sponsored terrorism” and “foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War” in which Turkey’s support for various radical Islamist groups was documented were the cause of the ban.

“It is time for Wikipedia to be restored in Turkey. Access to information is a fundamental right,” Maher tweeted.

Users in Turkey can access the encyclopedia through virtual private networks, pirate and mirror websites, some of which have also been blocked. A practical way of reaching Wikipedia in Turkey is putting a “0” in front of the second-level domain.

Turkish government has previously, and on multiple occasions, blocked most popular websites and social media networks such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. A ban on YouTube in 2008 over videos allegedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, lasted for two-and-a-half-years.

In October 2016, Turkey shut down all Internet services in a dozen Kurdish-majority provinces following the arrest of prominent Kurdish politicians.

Turkish Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan had defended the ongoing ban on Wikipedia, saying it should “blame itself for the ban.” “As we are trying to deal with all this terrorism, Wikipedia makes us look like we work with terror groups,” Arslan said on Dec. 18, 2017.

A report this week by the US-based Freedom House that advocates political and civil liberties downgraded Turkey from “Partly Free” to “Not Free.”

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 242 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 4, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 215 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 138 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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