The government maintained extensive restrictions on Internet access. The Internet law allows the government to prohibit a Web site if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any of eight crimes: insulting Ataturk; engaging in obscenity, prostitution, or gambling; or encouraging suicide, sexual abuse of children, drug abuse, or provision of substances dangerous to health. Upon receiving a complaint or as a result of personal observations, a prosecutor may request that a judge prohibit access to the offending site or, in an urgent situation, the Telecommunication Internet Presidency (TIB) may prohibit access while the complaint is examined. In either case, a judge must rule on the matter within 24 hours. Following a judicial decision to uphold the complaint, the Internet service provider (ISP) must block access within 24 hours. If the judge does not approve the block, the prosecutor must ensure access is restored. ISP administrators may face a penalty ranging from six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for failing to comply with a judicial order. The law also allows people who believe a Web site violates their personal rights to request the TIB to order the ISP to remove the offensive content. The antiterror law and other sections of the penal code were also used to block Web sites.
There were no official figures on the number of blocked Web sites. However, Engelliweb, an NGO working on Internet freedom issues, reported that, as of December 31, authorities had blocked 15,595 Web sites, more than doubling the number reported in 2010. The Information Technologies Institute (BTK) reported 81 percent of the sites that were blocked contained pornography.
On September 21 an Ankara Heavy Penal Court ruled to bar access to 16 Kurdish-related Web sites, including welat.org and firatnews.org, as well as Kurdish video and radio Web sites, such as medciwan.com.
In 2010 the TIB banned Playboy magazine’s Web site without a court order, based on “a legal evaluation” of the Internet law on obscenity. The ban remained in force at year’s end.
The BTK reported there were 25,850 Internet cafes in the country. Internet cafes were primarily used by young people. Under the Internet law, mass use providers, including Internet cafes, can only operate if they are granted an official activity certificate obtained from a local authority representing the central administration. The providers are required to deploy and use filtering tools approved by TIB. Providers who operate without official permission face administrative fines. As of December Internet activists reported that more than one million Web sites were blocked in Internet cafes in the country. The Web sites for many mainstream LGBT organizations were among those blocked, including the Kaos GL news portal.
Additional Internet restrictions were applied in government and university buildings. On September 21, parliamentarian Aylin Nazliaka submitted a parliamentary question to the prime minister challenging blocked access to the LGBT sites of Kaos GL and Lambda Istanbul from Internet stations at the parliament building. Both organizations were on the “black list” of forbidden sites issued by TIB.
In August, after significant public and international protest against a mandatory filter, the government revised a plan to introduce a regulation of the principles and procedures for safe usage of the Internet. In November the BTK implemented a nonmandatory filter, with two voluntary options, for “child” and “family.” Civil society organizations continued to criticize the program, both for the government’s involvement in deciding what is appropriate for family or child use on the Internet, and a lack of transparency into the criteria used to block sites. The Alternative Information Association opened a case at the State Council against the new regulation stating the BTK was not entitled to make such a decision.
Government authorities on occasion accessed Internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. Police must obtain authorization from a judge or, in emergencies, the “highest administrative authority” before taking such action and generally did so in practice.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Government restrictions on freedom of speech at times limited academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics and event organizers stated they practiced self-censorship on sensitive topics. Human rights and students groups continued to criticize constraints placed on universities by law and by the actions of YOK that limits the autonomy of universities in staffing, teaching, and research policies and practice.
In August the government issued a decree with the force of law that changed the process of appointment to the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TUBA). Previously, TUBA members reviewed and elected all new scientists to join as members. With the new decree, TUBA members will elect one-third of the members, YOK will assign one-third of the members, and the Cabinet of Ministers will assign one-third of the members. Leading academics and scientists criticized the change as a politicization of scientific endeavors that will eliminate scientific autonomy and undermine scientific standards. Half of the 138 TUBA members resigned in protest.