The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned the court order blocking access to a number of websites and URLs including news sites and their social media accounts, as well as the social media accounts of civil society movements, politicians and others.
Among the blocked sites is Bianet.org, a part of the IPS Communications Foundation, which has been publishing since 2000. Monitoring and reporting on press freedom violations and developments for a long time, Bianet was publishing periodic Media Monitoring Reports.
On July 16, 2019, a court ordered 136 websites and social media accounts of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Pinterest to be shut down upon the request of gendarmerie general command under Ministry of Interior. The order cited a law relating to “national security and preservation of order and peace in society”, however the court did not provide any further details about the reason behind closing down of websites.
The order includes some of the websites such as “GeziyiSavunuyoruz” (Eng: Defending Gezi) – a solidarity account to provide info and developments about the Gezi Trial, in which a number of civil society leaders are being prosecuted for “alleged attempt to overthrow the government” – that had already been closed down. The official order being issued after the implementation is highly intriguing.
IPI spoke to IPS Communications Foundation Executive Board Chair Nadire Mater following the court order. Mater said that Bianet.org is not the first nor the only website being shut down. “At Bianet, we kept fighting until now for press freedom issues in Turkey, with this type of solidarity we will continue to do so,” said Mater. She also said that “News is not something that can be prevented.”
As Bianet’s legal team is making the objections to this order, Mater said that there was no official response from authorities so far and added: “The latest Judicial Reform Strategy was proposing regulations to such blocks to access websites, that might positively change it. But the reforms were suspended in the last minute [due to Parliament going on recess].”
Mater said that they will continue their workshops and other activities for journalists as before.
The blocking of access applies to a total of 136 URLs, of which 15 are news sites including Bianet, ETHA, Halkınsesi TV and Özgür Gelecek. Mater said that Bianet.org is the only news sites mentioned in the court order that is currently active.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu commented on the decision, saying this order blocking access to Bianet with no explanation or argument based on an excuse of “national security” is a total arbitrary and illegal decision that targets independent journalism.”
Önderoğlu, who also prepared Bianet’s periodic Media Monitoring Reports, called the decision a censorship and said: “This decision reveals the insincerity of those who have announced the Judicial Reform Strategy as good news. If this decision is to be implemented, there will be no safe online platform left for journalism.”
IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad condemned the court order and stressed the discrepancy between this decision and Judicial Reform Strategy published in last May.
“On the one hand the government is preparing to present a Judicial Reforms Package and on the other hand it is stifling independent media in the country”, Prasad said. “The latest order is another blow to democracy and a step towards silencing independent online media denying people of Turkey their right to information.”
“Bianet should continue to freely disseminate its independent and pluralistic news”, he said.
IPI urges Turkish authorities for an immediate withdrawal of the order. This decision is yet another violation of right to objective information and press freedom, which has been constrained for a very long time in Turkey.