(May 3, 2017) On April 29, 2017, in accordance with Law No. 5651 on the regulation of Internet publications, Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA), under the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications, issued an administrative order blocking all language editions of the Wikipedia website in Turkey. (Akira Tomlinson, Turkey Blocks Wikipedia as Threat to National Security, PAPER CHASE (Apr. 29, 2017); Wikipedia Blocked in Turkey, TURKEY BLOCKS (Apr. 29, 2017).) The ICTA reportedly announced on its website, “an administrative measure has been taken for this website (wikipedia.org) according to Decision Nr. 490.05.01.2017.-182198 dated 29/04/2017 implemented by [the ICTA].” (Wikipedia Blocked in Turkey, supra.)
The Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications reportedly stated in an e-mail that Wikipedia was blocked because of “its articles and comments showing Turkey in coordination and aligned with various terrorist groups, … . Instead of coordinating against terrorism, it has become part of an information source which is running a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena,” and that Wikipedia had refused to remove such content despite having been warned by the Turkish government to do so. (Can Sezer & David Dolan, Turkey Blocks Access to Wikipedia, REUTERS (Apr. 29, 2017).)
Legal Basis for the Action
According to article 8/A of Law No. 5651, a judge may take a decision to remove content from or block access to the Internet on one or more of the following grounds:
- to protect the right of life or security of life and property,
- to protect national security and public order,
- to prevent the commission of a crime, or
- to protect public health.
(Law on Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Combating Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publications of Turkey and Amendments of 27 March 2015 (Law No. 5651), art. 8/A(1), Opinion No. 805/2015, CDL-REF(2016)026, European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) website (Strasbourg, Apr. 15, 2016); Text in Turkish (May 4, 2007, as amended), MEVZUAT.)
In circumstances where a delay would present a risk, however, the head of the ICTA may make such a decision, pursuant to a request by the Office of the Prime Minister or a ministry concerned with the protection of national security and public order, the prevention of the commission of crime, or the protection of public health. (Law No. 5651, supra.) The ICTA head is to immediately notify the access providers and the content and hosting providers of the decision, and the necessary measures for removal of the content and/or blocking of access are to be immediately implemented, “within a maximum of four hours as from the notification of the decision.” (Id.) The ICTA head’s decision is to be submitted within 24 hours to a judge for approval. The judge must announce his/her decision within 48 hours; otherwise the decision will automatically lapse. (Id. art. 8/A(2).)
The Law further prescribes that the decisions taken on the basis of the above provisions will be “in the form of a block imposed on access to the relevant publication, section, or part in which the offence was committed (in the form of the URL etc),” but in circumstances where it is technically not possible to prevent the access to the offending content or blocking access will not prevent the violation, a decision may be made to completely deny access to the Internet site. (Id. art. 8A(3).)
The ICTA head will also submit a complaint “concerning the persons who developed and published the internet content which is the subject of the offence under this article” to the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor, and information needed to gain access to the offenders “shall, upon the decision of a magistrate, be provided to the judicial authorities by the content, hosting and access providers.” (Id. art. 8A(4).) Failure to provide the information on the part of the responsible officers of the relevant content, host, and access providers is punishable by a fine, “unless the act constitutes an offence which incurs a heavier penalty.” (Id.) Access, content, and host providers that fail to comply with a content removal and/or blocking of access decision will face a civil penalty of from TL 50,000 to 500,000 (about US$14,079-$140,788). (Id. art. 8A(5).)
The Anadolu news agency reported that the government will lift the blockage if “Wikipedia meets Turkey’s demands.” The news organization noted, moreover, that “Turkey has requested that such websites take such steps as having a representative in the country, complying with principles of international law, implementing court rulings, and not being part of any smear campaign or operation in Turkey.” (Ahmet Sait Akcay, Turkey: Wikipedia Blocked for Disregarding the Law, ANADOLU AGENCY (Apr. 29, 2017).) Maybe move this paragraph above the “Reactions” subtitle as it is more reporting government statement than a reaction by the Agency.
The Guardian pointed out that, although the government has in the past denied it, “[m]onitoring groups have accused Turkey of blocking access to social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook, particularly in the aftermath of militant attacks.” (Turkey Blocks Wikipedia Under Law Designed to Protect National Security, GUARDIAN (Apr. 29, 2017).) The government has attributed the blackouts to “spikes in usage after major events,” but technical experts with the monitoring groups contend “they are intentional, aimed in part at stopping the spread of militant images and propaganda.” (Id.)
According to an article in Fortune, the government imposed its previous restrictions or blockage of access to the abovenamed sites, and to WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram, and YouTube, “in conjunction with moves against [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s opponents.” (David Z. Morris, Turkey Blocks All Versions of Wikipedia, FORTUNE (Apr. 30, 2017).) A member of the opposition Republic People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) reportedly stated that the blockage of Wikipedia is an indication that “the government can’t get enough of censorship”; as Fortune noted, at one point in 2016, “as many as 100,000 websites were blacklisted in Turkey.” (Id.)