The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided on 18 December 2012 that the Turkish Court decision to block the entire Google Sites breached the Freedom of Expression as foreseen in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
Turkey has a long history of censorship policy regarding Internet content and blocking of websites. A survey commissioned by OSCE in 2012 has actually shown that the Turkish authorities were able to block the access to Internet of about 3700 websites, including foreign websites such as YouTube, Geocities, DailyMotion and Google.
In this case brought to the ECtHR, the applicant had a website hosted by the Google Sites service, on which he published his academic work and his opinions on various matters. But Google Sites was blocked entirely after 23 June 2009 when the Denizli Criminal Court of First Instance ordered the blocking of an Internet site the owner of which had been accused of insulting the memory of Atatürk. The order was issued as a preventive measure in the context of criminal proceedings against the site’s owner.
The blocking order was submitted for execution to the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB). Shortly afterwards, the TİB asked the court to extend the scope of the order by blocking access to Google Sites, which hosted not only the site in question but also the applicant’s site. The TİB stated that this was the only technical means of blocking the offending site, as its owner lived abroad.
The TİB blocked all access to Google Sites and the applicant was thus unable to access his own site. All his subsequent attempts to remedy the situation were unsuccessful because of the blocking order issued by the court. In a letter sent to the Court in April 2012 the applicant stated that he was still unable to access his own website even though, as far as he was aware, the criminal proceedings against the owner of the other site had been discontinued because it was impossible to determine the identity and address of the accused who lived abroad.
In the Chamber judgement of this case (application no. 3111/10), the Court held that a violation of Article 10 on Freedom of Expression has occurred by blocking access to Google Sites which hosted many sites by its service.
The Court reiterated that a restriction on access to a source of information was only compatible with the Convention if a strict legal framework was in place regulating the scope of a ban and affording the guarantee of judicial review to prevent possible abuses. ECtHr stated that “there was no indication that the Turkish Criminal Court had made any attempt to weigh up the various interests at stake, in particular by assessing whether it had been necessary to block all access to Google Sites.” The Turkish courts should have had regard to the fact that such a measure would render large amounts of information inaccessible, thus directly affecting the rights of Internet users and having a significant collateral effect.
The Court also pointed out that Article 10 § 1 of the Convention stated that the right to freedom of expression applied “regardless of frontiers”.
“Today’s decision is a wake-up call for states that sweeping blocking injunctions are a serious violation of free speech on the Internet” explained Dr. Agnes Callamard, EDRi member ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
Press release: Restriction of Internet access without a strict legal framework regulating the scope of the ban and affording the guarantee of judicial review to prevent possible abuses amounts to a violation of freedom of expression (18.12.2012)
Court decision Case 3111/10 – AFFAIRE YILDIRIM c. TURQUIE (only in French, 18.12.2012)
Turkey: Landmark European Court Decision finds blanket Google ban was a violation of freedom of expression (18.12.2012)
EDRi-gram: How many websites does Turkey block? (2.06.2010)
EDRi-gram: Turkey extends the censorship of YouTube (16.06.2010)
EDRi Observer Alternative Informatics Association press release on the decision (only in Turkish, 18.12.2012)