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YouTube Ban

DW staff (tt)March 8, 2007

Four college students asked a Turkish court on Thursday to revoke the ban of the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube, which was banned over a video allegedly insulting the country's founding father.

YouTube logo and Turkish flag
YouTube was dismayed by the ban in TurkeyImage: AP/DW

"Banning access to the Web site does not punish those who did that (posted the videos) but the citizens of the Turkish republic," said student Kursat Cetinkoz, reading from a petition the group submitted to the court in Istanbul.

YouTube Screenshot
YouTube is an incredibly popular portal for video amateurs

Turkey's largest telecommunications provider, Turk Telekom, has blocked access to the YouTube Web site on a court order over a video -- submitted by a Greek user -- which portrayed the founding father of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as a homosexual.

"The court order was faxed to us last night (Tuesday) and as a result the company's services were suspended in Turkey," Paul Doany, chairman of Turk Telekom told the Anatolia news agency on Wednesday.

According to the liberal daily Vatan, the video in question was part of a cyber battle between Turks and Greeks on the Web site since the beginning of the year, with both parties submitting videos or comments allegedly mocking or insulting the other.

A national hero

Trauer um vom Faschisten ermordeten armenischen Journalisten Hrant Dink
More than 100,000 people marched in a funeral procession for Hrant DinkImage: AP

Ataturk, who proclaimed modern day Turkey in 1923, is seen as a national hero by secular Turks and his legacy is protected under a special law.

"I am not in a position to say whether what YouTube did was an insult or whether it was right or wrong," Doany said. "We have been notified of a court order and we are doing what that order says."

YouTube was dismayed by the move, adding that the offending video had been removed from the site.

"We are disappointed that YouTube has been blocked in Turkey," the company said in a statement. "While technology can bring great opportunity and access to information globally, it can also present new and unique cultural challenges."

Turkish media expert Fatih Vulcan was cautions about welcoming the court decision.

"If there is an insult to Ataturk, that should prevent the showing of the video," Vulcan said. "But if you prevent the publication of the Web site altogether, that's censorship."

Protecting Turkishness

Ataturk is Turkey's national heroImage: AP

YouTube is the latest victim in the growing campaign being waged in the courts by the country's nationalist movement. Over 50 writers and intellectuals have been prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code that makes insulting "Turkishness" a crime -- including Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. Dink was gunned down and killed by a nationalist youth in January.

This is also not the first time the Web site has been sucked into Turkish politics. An extreme-right Turkish group, which has been blamed for several political murders, recently produced a video threatening Turkey's liberal intellectuals with the same fate as Hrant Dink. That clip was removed by YouTube after numerous complaints, but it did not lead to the general ban of the Web site.

The court order banning YouTube in Turkey, which is hoping to join the European Union, comes at a particularly sensitive moment for the country as it tries to improve its human rights image.