Turkish court bans access to 136 social media accounts, sites, including independent Bianet

A Turkish court banned access to 136 websites and Twitter accounts after a request by the gendarmerie.

The court ruling said the gendarmerie command last month submitted a request for banning the websites and social media accounts, including the independent news site bianet.org and the Twitter account of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Oya Ersoy, independent outlet MedyaScope.tv reported on Tuesday.

The gendarmerie is a paramilitary police force responsible for policing rural areas.

The court cited the protection of national security, individual rights, lives and possessions reasons for its ruling, Medyascope said. 

Other sites the court has banned access to include critical outlets such as Etha, Halkın Sesi TV, Özgür Gelecek, osp.org, geziyisavunuyoruz.org, Gazete Fersude, Yeni Demokratik Gençlik, Umut Gazetesi, Kızıl Bayrak, Marksist Teori, Direnişteyiz, Mücadele Union and Antakya Sokak. 

Bianet’s project consultant Nadire Mater told T24 news site that the court’s decision was one which they did not plan to accept. 

“This isn’t the first time this has happened to Bianet. Other sites that have been shut down or silenced continue to publish news. Furthermore, Bianet is not only a news site; there are various journalism projects we take part in. In other words, we are going to continue our work,” Mater said. 

Established in 1998, independent Bianet documents violations of freedom of expression and violence against women in Turkey, in addition to holding journalism workshops.

The site said it had not been informed of the ban, which has effectively blocked access to its entire website of more than 200,000 articles.

Bianet’s lawyer, Meriç Eyüpoğlu, called the court’s ruling a legal scandal and “a great attack on freedom of press.’’ 

HDP deputy Ersoy told T24 that the access ban on her Twitter account constituted a crime and she would be appealing the decision. 

"We are going to file a complaint against the judge and the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK). This ruling also demonstrates a narrowing of [parliamentary] immunity,’’ Ersoy said. 

The editor-in-chief of Fersude.net, Hayri Tunç, said they would continue publishing as the ban had not yet been implemented. 

"Our lawyers have yet to find out why the entirety of our site has been banned,” Tunç said. 

Turkish academic and a signatory Academics for Peace petition in January 2016 Esra Arsan said the court's decision was in effect a seizure of the public's right to access information.

Bianet and the other newly banned sites and accounts have a seven-day period to appeal the court’s decision. If the appeals are denied, they may apply to the Constitutional Court. 

A growing list of news sites are facing bans in Turkey as part of an ongoing crackdown on media critical of the government and in the aftermath of the 2016 failed coup.

Turkey blocked a total of 245,825 websites and domains between 2014 and 2018, a 2018 report by the Istanbul Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD) said.