May 23 2019

Wikipedia to demand Turkey lifts ban at European Court of Human Rights

The crowdsourced online encyclopaedia Wikipedia is launching a bid to reverse the Turkish government’s two-year ban on its website, the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, has announced.

During a press call on Thursday, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Executive Director Katherine Maher, Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales, and the Foundation’s Legal Director Stephen LaPorte declared their plans to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“We are taking this action as part of our continued commitment to knowledge and freedom of expression as fundamental rights for every person”, the foundation’s statement said.

“This is not a step we have taken lightly; we are doing so only after continued and exhaustive attempts to lift the block through legal action in the Turkish courts, good faith conversations with the Turkish authorities, and campaigns to raise awareness of the block and its impact on Turkey and the rest of the world”, it said.

The Turkish government banned Wikipedia in April 2017 after one of the site’s entries, which are edited and uploaded by users, described the country as a “state sponsor of terrorist organisations” including al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The Wikimedia Foundation has called the Turkish ban “the most expansive ever imposed” on Wikipedia across the 300 languages its site covers.

The two articles that had led to the ban had been improved to address concerns raised by Turkey’s government, the foundation’s general counsel said in a 2018 open letter to Ahmet Arslan, Turkey’s former communications minister.

In Thursday’s statement it said it had done “all it possibly (could) to lift the block of Wikipedia in Turkey”, and had not received a response from Turkey’s highest court after lower courts upheld the block.

As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, though Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been known to ignore the court’s rulings.

The AKP has a history of blocking websites it deems troublesome, with popular websites including YouTube and Twitter subject to bans at various times over its rule.

Restrictive internet regulations introduced in 2014 allow the government to block access to websites without seeking a court ruling.