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Erdogan eyes Twitter taxes

April 12, 2014

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his government will "go after" Twitter and other online giants for tax evasion. He also attacked the country's top court, which has sided with the Internet firms.

Türkei Twitter Sperrung 02.04.2014 Istanbul
Image: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

In a televised speech on Saturday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced his latest objections about the social media website Twitter, saying that the for-profit company should pay Turkish taxes. The San Francisco-based company has no official presence in Turkey, although around 10 million Turks use the service.

"Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money," Erdogan said. "Twitter is at the same time a tax evader. We will go after it. These companies, like every international company, will abide by my country's constitution, laws and tax rules."

Erdogan's government banned the Twitter site on March 20, in the run-up to regional elections, reinstating access after two court orders on April 3. The short messaging service, well-suited to sharing links to information elsewhere online, had become a popular vehicle for spreading information appearing to implicate members of Erdogan's government in a major corruption scandal.

After orders from two courts, including Turkey's constitutional court at appeal, the government reinstated access to Twitter. Many Turkish users - not least President Abdullah Gul who criticized the ban in a series of posts on Twitter - had already found ways to circumvent the restrictions.

Kommunalwahlen Türkei
Erdogan's AKP did well at the polls despite its difficultiesImage: AFP/Getty Images

'Take off your robe'

The courts had ruled that banning the service was an unacceptable restriction on free speech, but Erdogan on Saturday criticized the top court for "advocating commercial law of international companies instead of defending the rights of its own country and its own people."

In a veiled reference to top judge Hasim Kilic, the prime minister said a judge who wanted to be involved in politics should "take off your robe."

"This amounts to interference in politics," Erdogan said. "We abided by the ruling on [Twitter], but I say it again, I don't respect it." Erdogan was on a collision course with the judiciary prior to the attempted Internet restrictions, after corruption allegations forced several of his ministers to resign. This was followed by the dismissal or relocation of a string of big-city prosecutors and police officials, accused of a smear campaign against the government.

Most recently, the constitutional court on Friday overruled part of a new reform package designed to increase the justice minister's powers at the judiciary's expense.

Google-owned video portal YouTube remains banned in Turkey, pending a Constitutional Court appeal against a lower court ruling calling for the limitations to be lifted. YouTube access was suspended after audio from a Turkish government meeting discussing possible military intervention in neighboring Syria was posted on the site. The online limitations prompted EU criticism for the recognized candidate country for European Union membership.

Erdogan had justified the bans by saying that the websites were not following Turkish court orders to suspend certain users and accounts being used to disseminate false allegations against the government in Ankara.

Despite the difficulties currently faced by Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party), the government strengthened its grip on power at the March-30 municipal elections.

msh/ng (AFP, dpa)