The Turkish president has come out against his country's banning of YouTube — and he let his opposition be known on Twitter.
In a recent tweet, president Abdullah Gül told his 27,893 followers: "About Turkey’s YouTube prohibition: I don't approve of the state's blocking of Google categories. Legal channels can be found."1
Although Gül's choice of venue for expressing his opinion may be mildly ironic, his opposition to his government's censorship isn't news. When asked by jounalists after a visit to Bozok University in April about YouTube and Google access issues — which recently became increasingly muddled — he said: "It is necessary to keep up with recently developed technology, and it's necessary to change some of the difficulties in the law related to that."2
The law to which Gül was referring is Turkey's infamous Law No. 5651, succinctly entitled "Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publication", which was instituted in May 2007 in response to a variety of internet "offenses" — not the least of which being a YouTube video of a parody news show, in which Greek football fans taunted Turks, saying: "Today's news; Kemal Atatürk was gay!"
Kemal Atatürk was the lionized founder of modern Turkey whose memory and image is protected by law. Although it may be hard for non-Turks to understand the esteem — both legal and actual — in which he is held in Turkey, insulting his heterosexual manliness might be akin to declaring that George Washington had an ongoing affair with the barnyard inhabitants of Mount Vernon, or that Mother Teresa was into lesbian leather bondage and scatology — but far more offensive.
Speaking of matters non-heterosexual, Law No. 5651 is also used to ban the websites GaBiLe, which is, as its acronymic name suggests, a site for gays, bisexuals, and lesbians; and another such site, hadiGAYri (roughly translated as "Let's go, Gays!"), which together have about 225,000 users.
Homosexuality and Atatürk's image are not the only targets of Law No. 5651. According to a January report (PDF) by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, concisely entitled "Report of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media on Turkey and Internet Censorship", the law is used to block access to at least 3,700 websites for a broad range of reasons, both defensible and less-so.
Targeted sites include not only those that contain child porn, information about suicide or illegal substances, or other matters that might be considered harmful or inappropriate for children, but also news sites such as Özgür Gündem, Keditör, and Günlük Gazetesi, which report on the Kurdish-separatist turbulence in southeastern Turkey.
The OSCE report calls upon Turkey — a member state — to modify Law No. 5651, saying that its use by the country's Telecommunications Communication Presidency (Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı, or TIB) flies in the face OSCE human rights principles, "especially freedom of expression and privacy of communication."
The report also calls upon the TIB to be more transparent about how, when, and why it blocks sites, and notes that in addition to blocks made under the terms of Law No. 5651, there have been 197 politically motivated, court-ordered blocking decisions made outside its scope.
President Gül undoubtedly had the OSCE report on his mind when he tweeted his opposition to the actions of the TIB and other government and judicial bodies under cover of Law No. 5651. After all, Turkey wants to join the EU — a possibility currently under what might be kindly termed "vigorous debate" in Europe — and an out-of-control TIB and a damning OSCE report on state-stifled internet freedom isn't helping those Turks who favor getting aboard the Euro train. ®
Your Turkish may very well be better than ours, so here are Gül's quotes in the original:
1. "Youtube ve Google konusunda çok fazla şikâyet olduğunu biliyorum. Bu konudaki görüşlerimi daha önce birkaç kez sizlerle ve paylaştım."
2. "Bilim alanındaki gelişmeleri önceden takip etmek gerekir ve bunlarla ilgili bazı hukuki sıkıntıları, kanunları ona göre düzeltmek gerekir."