Access to a total of 136 websites including news portals and social media accounts that are critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been prohibited by a court, Reuters reported citing a monitoring group on Tuesday.
Bianet, a foreign-supported group focused on rights on Tuesday published a July 16 ruling given by the 3rd Peace Judge at Ankara.
The ruling ordered the blocking of 136 Internet sources under Article 8/A of the Internet Act relating to grounds of national security.
Bianet news portal is affiliated with the IPS Communication Foundation, which was established in 1993 in Istanbul with the aim of supporting and implementing programs in the fields of communication and development.
Bianet on Tuesday said they became aware that their news website was among those affected by the ruling that was reportedly issued upon a request by the Gendarmerie General Command also on July 16.
Reuters said that it was unclear when the ban, which fuelled criticism of state censorship, was meant to take effect. Internet users in Turkey can still access some of the websites included in the list.
A number of press associations on Tuesday condemned the ruling, arguing that the AK Party (AKP) government, which shut down many critical media institutions through emergency decrees after a failed coup attempt in July 2016, continues to do the same by way of court rulings.
Sibel Gunes, the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) Secretary-General defined the ban as “an attempt to prevent people’s right to information.”
Emphasizing that Turkey continues to be among the most problematic countries in terms of freedom of the press, Gunes added that the websites were blocked without any reason.
“For democracy to develop and the people to be informed about the truths in this country, it must be ensured that websites, newspapers, journalists can do their jobs,” TGC Secretary-General argued.
Gunes also stated that the block on Bianet’s publishing is considered by TGC as “a new unlawful intervention in terms of freedom of the press.”
Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) chairperson Gokhan Durmus held forth that the verdict given by the Ankara 3rd Penal Judgeship of Peace has no place in the law.
“The mentality that can’t accept democracy and freedom of expression continuously attacks the people’s right to be informed through censorship and blocking,” Durmus said.
A decision of access block was made on news websites that are followed by thousands of people and organizations like Bianet, he said, noting that this was done although there was not a crime that had been committed in the banned reports, content and the posts.
Expressing solidarity with those in charge of all of the blocked websites, Faruk Eren, chairperson for the Press, Broadcast, and Printing Press Workers Union of Turkey (DISK Basın-Is), stated that the ruling was “awful.”
“Journalism is under heavy pressure. It is attempted to be killed. But journalists resist stubbornly,” he explained.
He added that they want all the blocked websites to be re-opened immediately.
Erol Onderoglu, Turkey’s representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), highlighted that the ruling targeted free reporting and it was extremely arbitrary and dangerous.
“There cannot be reform with the understanding of the oppressive state. We call upon them not to implement the decision that was made on July 16,” Onderoglu said.
“Increasing Internet censorship reveals the ruling AKP government’s great fear,” argued the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Coordinator Baris Altintas.
He outlined the reason behind the government’s fear saying they know that without independent media organizations such as Bianet, the unlawfulness they commit won’t be heard in public.
“The unlawfulness that Bianet and other websites are subjected to should immediately be retracted and the government should leave these unacceptable methods,” MLSA coordinator underlined.
Can Guleryuzlu, chairperson for the Contemporary Journalists Association (CGD), said they denounce the verdict.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are in danger. The court who made the decision has violated the Constitution by disregarding freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” he elaborated.
Guleryuzlu held forth that the ruling must be retracted because it seems unlawful and lacking a legal basis.
Meric Eyuboglu, the attorney of Bianet who filed an objection against the order, indicated that the Constitutional Court (AYM) has ruled two times that access block verdicts issued for articles on Bianet violated the freedom of expression.
“But now, the judge concerned gave an order to block access to not to a report but to the entire website. Moreover, the judge did not need to base this order of censorship to any justification,” Eyuboglu said.
According to a 2018 report by the Istanbul Freedom of Expression Association (IFOD), the Turkish government blocked access to a total of 245,825 websites and domains between 2014 and 2018.