FT.com: Turkey to face European Court on YouTube ban

FT.com / Media – Turkey to face European Court on YouTube ban

By David O’Byrne in Istanbul
Published: November 30 2009 16:57 | Last updated: November 30 2009 16:57

Turkey’s controversial censorship of the internet video sharing site YouTube is to be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, a Turkish internet users group announced on Monday.

According to Mustafa Akgul, head of Turkey’s Society for Internet Technology, the society has taken the step having exhausted all legal avenues in Turkey to force the lifting of the ban, which was imposed in May 2008.

‘Our first case asking for the ban to be lifted was rejected on the grounds that we should have opened it within one week of the ban being applied, a ruling which was repeated by a higher court,’ said Mr Akgul.

‘Neither court actually listened to our objections to the ban, which are that it infringes freedom of expression and that the process is completely arbitrary,’ he said, adding that most bans have been imposed simply as a result of random complaints to Turkey’s Telecommunications Authority.

Mr Akgul explained the authority then automatically imposes the ban via an extra-judicial process in which no one is invited to submit a defence, and no details are published of the reasoning behind the ban which is indefinite and not subject to appeal.

Mr Akgul said expects the European Court process to take around three years but confirms that the ban inconveniences few internet users in Turkey as most have discovered that all banned sites can easily be accessed by changing their computer’s internet access settings or by using internet proxy sites such as Vtunnel.com.

Those using such ruses apparently include Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Prime Minister, who last year responded to a question from a journalist concerning the ban by pointing out that if he could access the site, so could everyone else in Turkey.

YouTube was first blocked in Turkey in 2007 when a court ordered the telecommunications authority to ban the site for hosting videos insulting the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a crime which carries stiff penalties in Turkey.

YouTube’s owners Google responded by agreeing to block access to any videos in breach of Turkish law to anyone accessing them from a Turkish IP address – a move which saw the ban temporarily lifted.

However the ban was re-imposed when Google refused to accede to the courts demands that the videos should be blocked throughout the world in order to ‘protect the sensitivities’ of Turks living in other countries.

As Turkey’s telecommunications authority publishes no details of its rulings no one is sure exactly how many web sites have been banned in Turkey.

But YouTube is far from alone with some estimates of the number of banned sites running into the tens of thousands.

Banned sites include those accused of sharing recorded music, those accused of hosting child pornography, sites hosting blogs accused of containing material which breaches Turkish law and, curiously, the home page of English comedian and folk singer Richard Digance, whose crime may or may not be having penned a poem entitled ‘The Turkey’, lamenting the fate of the Christmas Turkey.