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Google feud spotlights internet censorship in Turkey

Good luck using Google in Turkey - the service is blocked or operates at a snail's pace due to a clash between the governement and the search engine. Turkey's archaic censorship laws are drawing criticism from Europe.

Google search engine

China has censored Google in the past--and now Turkey is following suit

Earlier this month, Turkey announced it would ban access to some Google services and web pages. The ban is the result of a clash between Google and the Turkish government.

In the past, Google has been reluctant to set up a presence in Turkey because analysts say that would mean opening itself up to prosecution over the content shown on its site.

YouTube blocked

Turkish President Abdullah Gul

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has said internet bans don't belong in Turkey

Google's hugely popular YouTube video-sharing site has already been banned for 2 years in Turkey because of the presence of videos denigrating Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Courts are still handing out long jail sentences to journalists under the country's anti-terror and anti-defamation laws.

Professor of media studies at Istanbul Bilgi University Haluk Sahin says Turkey's lawmakers are simply unable to move with the times.

"It's an extension of a mentality that has very deep roots here. We don't have a liberal tradition in which freedom of speech and expression is considered to be of a fundamental part of civilized life," said Shain.

As a result, said Shain, lawmakers react to developments the same way their fathers and grandfathers did -- with bans.

Embarrassing censorship

Thousands of web pages have been banned by Turkish courts, under an anti-pornography law. Many savvy web users are circumventing the bans by using proxy servers, but the courts hit back this week by outlawing them.

President Abdullah Gul has spoken out against the bans.

"Of course there should not be such bans in Turkey," he said.

"If there is a need for a new law, then the law should be introduced," Gul said. He added that Turkey shouldn't be seen as a country which bans websites.

Turkey on a map

Internet censorship could cast doubt on Turkey's bid for EU candidacy

But Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım expressed a different view.

"We are not in a position to bargain with them. They need to accept Turkish laws and have a valid address in Turkey," Yıldırım said, refering to Googles tactic of rerouting searches to places outside of Turkey's jurisdiction.

European criticism

In a report this week the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a conflict prevention organization, strongly criticized the censorship. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has also voiced concern.

British Labor Party deputy Richard Howitt, who is also the vice president of the European Parliament's Human Rights Sub-Committee, criticized the ban.

"These complaints which we brought to our parliamentary colleagues were listened to and we got commitments for them to be investigated," said Howitt.

But Professor Sahin doesn’t share his optimism. He says despite the growing national and international pressure, changes to legislation cannot be expected anytime soon.

"Nobody seems to move a finger to change them, even when they say the see (the problem), they do not take necessary steps to get rid of them. It's anomaly that makes Turkey an embarrassing place," Sahin said.

With no internet reforms on the agenda, such pessimism would appear justified. Turkey seems destined to remain -- at least for a time -- in the company of countries like Burma, North Korea and Iran, where internet freedom is not a given.

Author: Dorian Jones (smh)
Editor: Rob Turner

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