Twitter has become a basic communication tool for the users in Turkey to exercise freedom of speech. The President, The Prime Minister and the commissioners, journalists, bureaucrats, members of the parliament, writers, artists, unionists and activists, people with different political ideologies, oppressed groups and people from different parts of the society can state their opinions and participate in discussions about the current situations. In an environment where traditional media is constantly struggling with government oppression, communication tools like Twitter are crucial for the citizens. The only environment we can access to information without being censored is through the internet. To block an essential tool like Twitter just before the elections is unacceptable. It’s a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Violation of the Right To Elect and the Right To Be Elected.
Turkey is on the eve of Local Elections. The running parties and the candidates use social media and Twitter frequently for their campaigns. This type of communication gives citizens the opportunity to follow the candidates closely, express their problems and hear the solutions that candidates can offer and also force them to create solutions. Therefore, blocking Twitter not only violates the freedom of speech but also violates the right to elect and to be elected.
We Are Concerned About The Integrity Of Upcoming Local Elections
We are experiencing great political tensions in expectation of the upcoming local elections that will take place on March 30th, 2014. These tensions are further solidified through distrust in the electoral process itself. The internet holds great potential for bringing citizen oversight to this process. It offers platforms and communication mechanisms to rapidly report on injustices and fraud attempts during the election data. Given current circumstances in Turkey, the internet is expected to play a crucial role in the supervision of the casting and counting of votes and hence in assuring the integrity and safety of the elections. The current blocking of internet based services is destructive to these citizen initiatives, increases existing social and political tensions, and negatively affects the trust in the electoral process. We are hence very concerned about both the integrity and safety of the upcoming elections.
The government points to court rulings to justify the blocking of Twitter. However, by now we are unsure about “whose” courts and rulings we can rely on. In the hands of the government, “legal grounds” are interpreted excessively or simply manipulated, leading to increasing distrust in the legal system. The Presidency of Telecommunications (Telekomunikasyon Iletisim Baskanligi or simply TIB) plays a precarious role in the enforcement of these legal rulings. In some past cases, they have abstained from taking action on select court rulings, arguing that it is beyond their legal authority. They have stated that TIB only has the authority to enforce blocking decisions when these are based on catalogued crimes. Yet in some cases, they have overstepped their authority and enforced rulings on blocking Internet based services. The arbitrary enforcement of legal rulings is in tune with the repeated threats made public by Prime Minister Erdoğan who most recently announced “we will eradicate social networks like Twitter”.
An “eclipse of reason” is the current state of the Turkish government. It is not possible to articulate a rational explanation for the new regulations, including the new Internet laws, and their enforcement within a framework of governance informed by basic democratic values. We can only regard these intrusive interventions as acts of despair and a lack of intellect.
These shameful acts of censorship are unacceptable. We call for action against censorship and the chilling of voices on the Internet, now!
Alternative Informatics Association, March 21st, 2014