Internet rights group claims restrictions on access to Google-owned sites illegally discriminate against users
* Nichole Sobecki in Istanbul
* guardian.co.uk, Sunday 4 July 2010 18.41 BST
The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul. The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, has spoken out against the ban. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images
An internet rights group has launched a legal challenge in Turkey over a ban on access to a host of Google-owned sites.
The case, in which the Internet Technologies Association argues that the restrictions illegally discriminate against millions of users, is the latest front in an ongoing dispute that raises questions about free speech in a country attempting to join the EU.
‘It’s an infringement on our fundamental human rights, the freedom of conversations and our right to information,’ said Yaman Akdeniz, an associate professor of law at Istanbul Bilgi University and founder of the thinktank Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties.
Turkey’s censorship of the internet dates back to 2007, when a law was passed to tackle child pornography and websites that encourage suicide, drug use, gambling or prostitution. The law broadened state powers by creating a government office with the authority to shut down websites without a court order.
YouTube was banned in 2008 after a video was posted on the site showing Greek football fans taunting Turks and making claims about the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
But the site still regularly scores among the top 10 most visited in Turkey, largely due to the use of proxy servers to circumvent the ban.
‘Some people call us Atatürk-haters because we want YouTube to be accessible in Turkey,’ said Akdeniz. ‘But things need to change here.’
Ankara has accused Google of ‘waging a battle’ against Turkey and dodging more than £13m in taxes generated from YouTube revenues – a charge that the US internet company has flatly denied.
Binali Yildirim, Turkey’s minister for transport and communications and the most visible figure behind the ban, said: ‘This site has entered a fight with the Turkish Republic, but Turkey will not accept this.’
But there has even been mounting anger over the ban among those in power. This month President Abdullah Gul expressed his opposition in a series of tweets, saying free speech restrictions were preventing Turkey from ‘integrating with the world’. He said he has instructed officials to look into ways to overcome the ban.
Richard Howitt, a British MEP and spokesman for the European parliament’s committee on Turkey, has warned that the ban puts ‘the country alongside Iran, North Korea and Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders for cyber censorship’.