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Turkey Internet crackdown

Dorian Jones, IstanbulJanuary 27, 2014

Net activists in Turkey say a proposed law to tighten censorship online won't stop them. The move to block websites comes as the government faces high legal corruption allegations.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Turkey's largest city Istanbul has again seen riot police clash with protestors. This month the protesters have been demonstrating against government legislation that's going through parliament to tighten state control over the Internet.

Turkey has some of the tightest controls in the world.

And the scene is not unknown in Istanbul. Istanbul's city centre became a battleground, with police using water cannon and tear gas to disperse protestors.

The proposed legislation would enable the government to impose further controls over the Internet, including empowering ministers to block websites.

Lawyer Selen Kaledelen of the Korsan website, which campaigns for freedom of information, says the new Internet crackdown is a crude attempt by the government to stifle allegations of high-level government corruption.

"I'm not shocked because I saw it coming. Amid the government corruption allegations, this law would allow authorities just to block websites, like citizen journalism Naber Media or others, within four hours," says Kaledelen. "So for me it's dictatorship of the authorities in terms of law. It's a censorship law and we don't recognize it."

Stop the leak

For the past month, Turkish media has been filled with reports of the government purging thousands of police officers and prosecutors following judicial probes into high level government graft.

Person holding picture of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the focal point of people's angerImage: picture-alliance/dpa

With the probes all but shut down, critics accuse the government of seeking to prevent any further - potentially embarrassing - leaking of information on the Net.

Under the new legislation, Internet providers would face greater government control and be compelled to keep users' information. Keyword searches could also be blocked.

Political analyst Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Forum says the proposed law is the latest nail in the coffin of "already ailing Internet freedom in Turkey.

"The law of 2007 is already very restrictive," says Aktar. "Turkey is one of the worst countries in terms of Internet freedom even now. We will see how far it will go. It's always very difficult to cut all links with the world to make Turkey something which would look like North Korea, but these are desperate moves by the government."

However, government spokesman Huseyin Celik dismisses such concerns, saying the proposed law aims to protect the family and privacy.

"Turkey is not China and will never be like China in this manner. Don't we all agree that we need some laws for social media and Internet media?" asks Celik. "These can be regulations based on world standards anywhere in the world."

Under the existing legislation, Turkish courts have blocked more than 40,000 websites. That's one of the highest figures in the world.

Popular sites such as YouTube were banned for several years.

The information is out there

But Law Professor and expert on cyber freedoms, Yaman Akdeniz of Istanbul's Bilgi University, questions the effectiveness of such controls.

Anti-corruption protests in Istanbul
Turkey is heading into an 18 month election period, which some fear will be fought on the streetsImage: Reuters

Akdeniz says the banning of popular websites have turned Turks into "net savvy" people. As in China, many people in Turkey have found ways to get around the blocks.

"Turkish people have become very knowledgeable about the Internet since YouTube was blocked," explains Akdeniz. "Everybody knows what a proxy is and everybody knows how to change their DNS [Domain Name System] numbers on their computer. And so the new measures also include blocking access to alternative measures such as proxy websites. But if people want to access information, you will not be able to stop them as long as they know the information is out there."

With the government enjoying a large majority in parliament, it's expected the Internet legislation will become law.

Lawyer Selen Kaledelen says she'll stay on the front line of this increasingly bitter battle and fight what could become a government "cyber army."

"I don't think they will succeed. People like us will talk, and it's not just about government corruption, it can be any case." Says Kaledelen. "So we will have additional routes and roads to communicate in the future, they can't stop us. But maybe they can build their own cyber army, because they are doing that, they are hiring some computer scientists, or coders and hackers. They are building their own crew."

Turkey's mainstream media is under increasing government pressure. So the Internet, with its citizen journalists and alternative news sites, remains one of the last sources of independent information.

And this is a critical time for the country.

Turkey is entering an 18 month election period and the outcome of the battle over Internet freedom could have far reaching consequences.