Istanbul, Oct 29 () - Internet freedom in Turkey has been curtailed with obstacles to ease of access, content blocking and user rights violations, according to the annual report by the Washington-based watchdog Freedom House.
The Freedom on the Net 2015 report particularly noted that the current state of Turkey’s regulatory bodies was a “potential threat” to Internet freedom, due to government-appointed board members.
“The BTK and the Telecommunication and Communication Presidency (TİB), which it oversees, are well staffed and have a dedicated budget. However, the fact that board members are government appointees is a potential threat to the BTK’s independence, and its decision-making process is not transparent. Nonetheless, there have been no reported instances of certificates or licenses being denied. The TİB also oversees the application of the country’s website blocking law and is often criticized by advocacy groups for a lack of transparency and its apparent lack of independence from the executive” the report said.
It also pointed to serious problems in content-blocking in Turkey, giving the example of recent blockings of social media and Kurdish websites as examples due to the recent social and political developments.
“According to the reports of the independent organization Engelli Web, as of May 2015 over 80,000 websites were banned based on civil code–related complaints and intellectual-property rights violations. The number of blocked websites has risen from 43,785 to 81,525 in two years. This figure includes numerous sites that were blocked for political or social reasons, such as news outlets or online communities that report on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) issues, ethnic minorities, anti-Muslim content, or social unrest,” it stated.
Regarding deletion and removal of online content, the report said state authorities were proactive in requests.
“According to Twitter’s latest Transparency Report, requests by the Turkish authorities to remove content have increased dramatically since Twitter started publishing data in 2012. The total number of removal requests—by courts as well as government agencies and the police—rose from 2 in the period of July to December 2013 to 186 in the six months afterward, during the height of the corruption allegations and intelligence leaks. The figure continued to grow, reaching 477 in the second half of 2014 and 718 in early 2015. Incredibly, 92 percent of all court orders and 55 percent of administrative requests that Twitter received around the world over the past six months originated in Turkey alone. Twitter reported that some content was duly withheld in 34 percent of cases,” the report stated.
It also highlighted that legal action has regularly been taken against Turkish social media users over their online activity, particularly for alleged “insults” targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“Over the past year, dozens of Twitter users, some with only hundreds of followers, were subject to prosecution, mostly on charges of insulting government officials. Erdoğan has filed criminal complaints against at least 67 people for “insulting” him online since he was elected president in August 2014. In addition to journalists, students have increasingly been prosecuted for defamation,” the report said.