The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) expresses concern over the Turkish government’s decision to block access to Twitter in the country on Thursday 20 March. According to the Guardian, Twitter could not be accessed in the country after its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “threatened to ‘root out’ the social media network where wiretapped recordings have been leaked, damaging the government’s reputation ahead of local elections,” to take place on 30 March. Even if some people are working around the blockage by accessing Twitter through SMS and other circumventing tools, this measure sends a strong message against freedom of expression in the country.
This is not an isolated incident. The prime minister has spoken publicly on numerous occasions about implementing total bans other social media sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, which had already been blocked in the past. Government control of the internet has been increasingly worrisome during the last years, but after a bill passed in February its scope has been extended and citizen mechanisms against it dramatically reduced.
These developments are severely affecting Turkish people’s rights to freedom of expression and association, as recognised by UN rights experts and the International Declaration of Human Rights. Citizens have already used Twitter and other social media to organise protests and hold the government accountable, as well as for making them visible while traditional media largely ignored these manifestations of dissent. In 2013, for example, approximately 3.5 million people participated in the Gezi Park protests. By banning these tools and preventing the Turkish people from expressing themselves, sharing information and organising online, the democracy of the country is being further compromised.
As stated by the APC Internet Rights Charter:
Freedom of expression should be protected from infringement by government and non-state actors. The internet is a medium for both public and private exchange of views and information across a variety of frontiers. Individuals must be able to express opinions and ideas, and share information freely when using the internet.
The internet must be protected from all attempts to silence critical voices and to censor social and political content or debate.
Organisations, communities and individuals should be free to use the internet to organise and engage in protest.
APC urges the Turkish government to respect international human rights standards and to immediately cease blocking, filtering and censorship of content and expression online. We reaffirm our concern in the light of Turkey being the host country of the 2014 Internet Governance Forum, a space that strives for a democratic and inclusive internet.