- By Constanze Letsch
A Turkish court has temporarily banned access to the social media sites YouTube, Twitter and Facebook over the publication of photographs showing a prosecutor kidnapped by far-left militants in Istanbul last week.
Mehmet Selim Kiraz died from bullet wounds last Tuesday after security forces stormed the office in the Istanbul courthouse where militants of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP-C) had taken him hostage.
The DHKP-C had published a picture of Kiraz held at gunpoint on social media, saying that he would be killed unless their demands were met. His two captors were killed in gunfire during the attempted rescue.
On Monday it emerged that a British citizen was being held as part of an operation against the DHKP-C after the attack. The man, named in local reports as Stephan Shak Kaczynski, 52, a British national of Polish origin, was detained on Saturday.
A source at the British embassy in Ankara confirmed a British citizen’s detention and said he had been offered consular assistance. In his statement to the police, Kaczynski rejected accusations that he was an active member of the DHKP-C, the daily Star Haber reported.
The social media ban followed a court demand that authorities block 166 websites that published the photos, including direct links to stories published by Turkish newspapers that featured the controversial images.
Seven Turkish newspapers face a criminal investigation after publishing the photograph of Kiraz.
According to Tayfun Acarer, head of the Turkish Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK), the ban on Facebook was lifted after the social media platform quickly complied with the court ruling.
The ban on Twitter was also expected to be lifted after the company said it had complied with Turkey’s request to remove images of Kiraz being held at gunpoint. “Users across Turkey will be able to access Twitter within the hour,” a Turkish official told Reuters late on Monday afternoon.
Bülent Kent, secretary general of the Internet Service Providers Union (ESB), told the Turkish daily Hürriyet that the “procedure” would continue and that all service providers were expected to implement the ban rapidly.
Soon after the Twitter ban came into effect, the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey became the top trending term globally. Hürriyet Online published step-by-step instructions on how to circumvent the ban, and Twitter users in Turkey took to the microblogging website to mock the effort to prevent people from using it.
One of the many tweets ridiculing the Turkish government’s efforts to block the site
“We learn from Twitter that Twitter is blocked,” one user tweeted. “Do you still not understand that there are no ‘bans’ for us?”
Turkey has blocked Twitter and YouTube before. In the runup to local elections in March 2014, access to both sites was temporarily blocked after audio recordings alleging corruption in the inner circle of then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party were leaked.
Turkish tweeters, well versed in getting around government clampdowns, were quick to share different methods of tiptoeing around the ban using virtual private networks, which allow internet users to connect to the web undetected, or by changing the domain name settings on computers and mobile devices to conceal their geographic whereabouts.
The ban caused widespread outrage in Turkey and internationally.
“Just as it is illogical and irrational to close down an entire library because it contains a few ‘banned books’, it is meaningless to ban the access to social media platforms that contain billions of useful documents and information to all of the Turkish people only because there is some inappropriate content,” the Turkish Press Council said.
Ibrahim Kalin, a presidential spokesman, defended the ban. Speaking at a press conference in Ankara on Monday, he said that the court passed the ruling because some media outlets supported the “spreading of terrorist propaganda” by publishing the images of Kiraz being held at gunpoint.
“[The ruling] has to do with the publishing of the prosecutor’s photograph. What happened [after the prosecutor’s killing] is as terrible as the incident itself,” Kalin said. “The demand from the prosecutor’s office is that this image not be used anywhere in electronic platforms.”