While many Turks were expecting the country's Twitter ban to near an end, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan instead upped the ante on Sunday, March 23, and threatened to expand the restriction to other popular social media networks such as Facebook and YouTube.
“They claim their freedom is being taken away from them. With all due respect, though, we will continue our fight against those who violate our privacy, who tap into our [telephone] conversations and listen to them,” Erdogan said at his election rally in Istanbul, directly linking the Twitter ban to the graft probe, which brought him, his family members and his government under a criminal spotlight more than three months ago. “If Twitter is going to take an honest attitude, if YouTube is going to follow an honest approach, then we will give all sorts of support. If Facebook gives up its immoral activities, we will support it. If it is going to cause harm to families, it is going to find the government of the Turkish Republic standing against it.” He added: “Ah, my dear brothers, ah. You should know what else they are doing. Do you know what they are talking about now? They talk about some further leakages on March 25th, March 30th. Sure it can be the 29th but not the 30th [the day of the local election]. Whatever it is that you will come up with, whatever kind of montage or dubbing, you will be crushed underneath these lies, threats, montages, shamefulness and viciousness.”
Since the corruption allegations became public, the prime minister has been talking of an “independence war” against those seeking to bring him down. With this fervent style of speech, he is almost counseling his followers to detest those disagreeing with him. While the country’s social fabric is being rewoven as a result of this kind of narrative, the facts are increasingly becoming irrelevant.
As reported here previously, the Turkish Communications Directorate (TIB) justified its decision for a general ban on Twitter on four separate court cases, none of which have anything to do with the graft probe. Erdogan, however, publicly makes this connection. Ersan Sen, a highly regarded Istanbul based lawyer in criminal cases, told Al-Monitor, “The government is taking advantage of this issue, and is trying to further expand its authority. The people at the rallies would not know about the legal bases of these issues, or how such decision is arbitrary and the government is enforcing a disproportionate authority restricting people’s freedom.” He added, “The TIB has only shared the date of the court decisions without stating the prosecutorial reference numbers that gives it the legal authority to exert this ban in general. Let’s assume for a moment, though, that there actually is a decision by the prosecutor’s office: That decision needs to be put forward before a judge for approval in less than 24 hours, and the judge needs to decide on it in less than 24 hours. In sum, there is actually no decision taken by a judge that authorizes a general ban to Twitter access from Turkey. Therefore, the TIB is actually in violation of the law by implementing such restriction in its entirety.”
Although Turkish President Abdullah Gul approved in February the recent Internet law, he also said on Sunday, March 23, that it was “not legally possible to shut down the Internet and the platforms [such as Twitter] in general.” He expressed a hope that the access to this popular social media network resumes soon. The government instead blocked access to public Domain Name System (DNS) servers provided by Google, making Turkey the first country ever to take such drastic measure to block access to Twitter. The perception on the Turkish street among the opposition is that the government is exercising a disproportionate use of authority in cyberspace just as police abused their authority during the Gezi Park protests in late May and early June of 2013.