ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–The 22.5 million Turkish members of Facebook may lose access to the popular social-networking site, Facebook, as a result of a court case filed by an opposition leader. A government minister who has defended Turkey’s bans on YouTube and other popular websites hinted Wednesday that Facebook could share the same fate.
The latest Internet controversy was sparked when lawyers for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) filed a criminal complaint over a Facebook group claiming that the opposition leader was a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Addressing rumors that Facebook might be banned as a result, Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım told attendees at an informatics fair that 30 judicial decisions had been issued to ban the site in Turkey.
“No action was taken against those decisions; applications to a higher court [were] not filed,” Yıldırım said, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Cebit Bilişim Eurasia 2010 fair. “[Facebook] did not come and meet with the administration and did not apply to the higher court either. Foreign companies are subject to the same laws as domestic ones.”
The minister said Turkey is a state of law and that the government cannot intervene in the decisions made by the judiciary.
Yıldırım has previously made similar comments about the banning of video- sharing portal YouTube, arguing that its parent company, Google, should open an office in Turkey, pay taxes and answer the legal demands regarding its content. YouTube has been banned in the country by several court orders acting on complaints about content insulting the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
CHP officials told the Hürriyet Daily News that the party is not asking for Facebook to be banned altogether, but only for the offensive content to be removed.
“Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu’s lawyer included the demand to shut down the site in the application by mistake,” CHP Adana deputy Tacidar Seylan, who is also a programmer and informatics expert, told the Daily News on Thursday. He said neither he, nor Kılıçdaroğlu want to see Facebook banned and that the case was filed to remove the offensive content, which was created when the now-party leader was running for the Istanbul mayor’s office in the 2009 local elections, with a ban only requested if such action was not possible.
The head of the country’s Telecommunication Transmission Directorate, or TİB, is currently facing one to three years in prison for not applying a court order to halt access to the page of a Facebook group titled, “Kılıçdaroğlu is a PKK member.”
Seylan said the CHP is aware that shutting down Internet sites is not a solution and that the party wants to see a nongovernmental ethics commission of journalists established to deal with insulting or immoral content.
“Attempting to shut down a website is against both freedom of communication and human rights,” Ahmet Ersin, a CHP deputy for İzmir and a member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, told the Daily News. He added that unethical content may be removed but shutting down a site entirely is a practice the party opposes.
Kılıçdaroğlu himself made a declaration Thursday that he does not want Facebook, which has more than 22.5 million membersin Turkey, to be banned.
The latest controversy shows that politicians in Turkey do not understand what social networks are all about, according to lawyer Mehmet Ali Köksal, the legal secretary for the Informatics Association of Turkey. He told the Daily News on Thursday that any site with Web 2.0 applications, in which a site’s visitors create the content, risks being shut down in Turkey.
“[If someone wants] to have Facebook shut down, all they need to do is to open an account and write a [insulting] reader comment or create a group,” he said.
Other commentators see the Internet bans as part of a large political strategy.
Serdar Kuzuloğlu, a columnist for daily Radikal who frequently criticizes the Internet laws in Turkey, wrote in a blog post on mserdark.com that a deputy who was a part of the commission that prepared the current law employed to ban websites told him on a TV debate show that they are also aware of the illogical and impractical nature of the law.
“Let me write what I have written a thousand times once more. YouTube is just a cover. The actual goal is silencing the opposition and founding a media that practices self-censorship out of fear,” Kuzuloğlu wrote in a July 27 column for Radikal. “[They] have succeeded at both.”
Kuzuloğlu said YouTube has representatives in Turkey and the tax loss from Google’s income originates from the Turkish companies receiving the service not paying the added-value tax. “Google makes the illegal [YouTube] contents inaccessible from [any] country where complaints are made. It did this for Turkey too,” Kuzuloğlu said. “The problem of our guys [the government] is something else.”
Who is behind most of the bans is also a subject of debate. People sympathetic to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, generally blame the CHP and nongovernmental organizations such as the Kemalist Thought Association or ADD, since most complaints come from them or their supporters. The opposition, on the other hand, puts the blame with the AKP since Law No. 5651 on Internet bans was enacted during its time in power and because the ruling party is the one with the numbers in Parliament to potentially change it.
When it comes to internet bans, the CHP and AKP do not differ much from each other, Köksal said. “The founder of the censorship law is the AKP and the one that supports [censorship] is the CHP. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.”