ISTANBUL (Hürriyet Daily News)—Thousands of people gathered Sunday in central Istanbul to protest the government’s plan to implement an Internet-filtering system in August.
Carrying posters reading “Free banned links now” and “Hands off our Internet,” the crowd continually applauded to show their objection and held sit-down strikes during their two-hour march from Taksim Square to Tünel at the end of Istiklal Avenue.
The government has said the filtering system will offer users the option of choosing between varying levels of access to the Internet with the main goal being to protect children from indecent content. Critics, however, have expressed doubt about the government’s intentions.
The group included writers from “Ekşi sözlük” (Sour Dictionary) electronic platform. They said the Prime Ministry’s Information Technologies Board, or BTK, plans to restrict people’s right to reach unbiased information with the online-filtering system.
“For families who want to protect their children, there are plenty of filtering systems that are presently provided free of charge. Therefore I am against this system’s compulsory application. We do not want filtering systems tracing people 24 hours a week,” said protester Emre Halman, 25.
Internet users who were previously accessing forbidden websites through altering their DNS measures will no longer reach those sites under the new regulation, said Ece Öztürk, an Ekşi Sözlük writer, saying that people will not have a chance to know which websites are censored in the four packages: standard, family, children and domestic.
“Every user will be given a username when choosing one of those packages. However, as we do not know what is censored, we will be penalized,” said Öztürk.
On the other hand, some protesters said people should have the freedom to decide what is harmful for them and this application does not have any difference from wiretapping. “There are so many forbidden websites that people enter by pretending as if they were connecting from abroad. People’s freedom of choice will be lost. This will resemble wiretapping because people’s every move will be traced,” said protester Alper Halıcı, 25.
Many protesters said conservative values of BTK have become widespread with the limitation of certain words. “A conservative part of society tries to examine the sites we enter. We are against restrictions in an atmosphere where there should be freedom instead,” said Serkan Ökter, an IT counselor, 35.
The application is not only related to preventing pornographic sites, said protester D.Y., who asked to be identified only by his initials, believing that overall the packages are meant to impose control over people.
“The closure of ‘Ekşi Sözlük’ increased the reactions toward BTK. Nevertheless, people should have shown the biggest reaction back then as the regulation was passed in February,” said Mustafa Avcı, 25, another Sour Dictionary writer. “People can still break the ban by using more sophisticated software, such as VPN networks from the United States.”
Police closed the square to protesters in Antalya
Meanwhile, some 300 protesters in Antalya who gathered in small groups in different spots of the city and were supposed to meet at the city’s Republic Square were forbidden to gather in the square by the police, for “having no permission to protest.” A group of protesters then stood still for a minute, protesting against police’s refusing to allow them walk to the square.
The protesters then kept marching in the city’s main streets, dragging keyboards and sometimes breaking them. They were also supported by people passing in their cars, who honked their horns in a sign of support. The protesters defined the Internet-filtering system as “censure,” and protested with “V for Vendetta” masks. They also shouted slogans saying, “They said there is censure, we came [to protest]” and “No quota, no limit, no censure.”
People have protested against the Internet-filtering system by marching in more than 40 Turkish provinces across the country. However, the turn out in Ankara and other locations was quite low.