Following a Turkey ban of Wikipedia, the non-profit organization that runs the popular site has now taken the matter to Europe’s top human rights court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
The Wikimedia Foundation argues the ban is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention.
The foundation announced on Thursday it had filed an application before ECtHR in a bid to lift a blanket ban on the online encyclopedia in Turkey.
Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the foundation told journalists in a press call the move comes in the wake of two-year efforts where there were numerous good faith discussions and lobbying campaigns to put pressure on Ankara to restore access – with the Turkish authorities to overturn the block on the site has not borne fruit.
Access to online platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp have been temporarily blocked in Turkey many times since 2014, usually after incidents such as mass demonstrations, terrorist attacks, or the 2016 coup attempt.
However, the Wikipedia ban stayed permanent for more than two years now. Since 2017, all language versions of the site have been inaccessible to Turkish IP addresses.
In April 2017, Ankara blocked access to Wikipedia over two entries the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said linked them to terrorist activities, one is related with the Syrian war and the other is on state-sponsored terrorism.
Turkey demands the entries be removed, while Wikipedia declines to take down the content.
At the time, Ahmet Arslan, then Turkish Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communication, said the ban would remain in place as long as Wikipedia refused to remove the content, which he argued unfairly presented the country as a supporter of Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
“The order blocking Wikipedia referred to only two articles, which have continued to be open for improvement by anyone and edited by volunteers around the world despite the block. It is unclear what, if any, concerns remain,” a Wikimedia statement reads, explaining that articles could be edited, but not removed due to the values of democratizing knowledge.
In the conference call, Stephen LaPorte, Legal Director of the foundation, said the two relevant articles had been “improved with more resources and neutral language added by volunteer editors around the world” but the ban had remained in place.
Wikipedia is one of the most widely-accessed sources of knowledge in the globe. It is read 6,000 times every second. Its articles are, on a daily basis, edited and improved by more than 250,000 volunteers from across the world who make good-faith efforts to cover all sides of a given topic, including controversial ones, to make people understand topics fully and transparently.
Before the ban, more than 300,000 articles in Turkish had been published on the site. Wikimedia applied to the Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM), the highest court in the country when the lower courts upheld the block. Turkey’s top court, however, has failed to respond in the two years. Wikimedia thus has taken the case to the ECtHR which will decide whether or not the application is admissible.
Based in Strasbourg, the ECtHR is an international court set up after World War II to uphold the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory. Turkey, therefore, is under the jurisdiction of the ECtHR, though the AKP government Ankara routinely ignores verdicts, paying fines instead.
Digital world under AKP control in Turkey
“Censorship of websites and online social media has reached unprecedented levels and the authorities are now trying to bring online video services under control,” declared Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based international media rights group.
In 2018, the AKP regime expanded the powers of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), Turkish watchdog, to include overseeing online content providers, which amounted to digital censorship.
The move came, the critics say, after the online world – websites, blogs, social media, etc. –emerged as the center of opposition in Turkey, notably in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2016.
Regulations grant the RTUK watchdog authority to issue or reject broadcasting licenses without reasoning, giving it complete power over digital content, Kerem Altiparmak, a human rights lawyer said.