Turkey censors 347 articles, bans outlets under new legislation

At least 347 online articles in have been censored in Turkey in the last three months upon requests from Turkish authorities, companies and individuals close to the government, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement released on Thursday.

Reasons for the censorship include containing content that is either insulting, a threat to national security or a violation of the right to be forgotten, it said.

Turkey’s new social media bill, passed in July, went into effect on Thursday. Turkish authorities will now be able to issue hefty fines of up to 30 million liras ($ 3.8 million), ban advertisements and throttle bandwidth by up to 90 percent for online platforms that refuse to comply with the requirement to establish a local office in Turkey, headed by a Turkish citizen, and address content removal requests by authorities.

“These new provisions give the Turkish government a great deal of control over social media and, if platforms comply with demands from the authorities, many online journalists could be under direct judicial threat,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu said in the statement.

Authorities have already banned complete access to three websites: Turkish journalist Can Dündar’s Özgürüz platform, the pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeni Yaşam’s online version, and the opposition OdaTV news platform.

Sendika.org, an online platform focusing on labour news and worker’s unions, was censored for the 65th time, which is reflected in the platform’s new URL, https://sendika64.org/.

Özgürüz has also relaunched 21 times under different URLs since its inception in 2017.

Articles detailing Turkey-based Aktif Bank’s alleged involvement with the Taliban and “shady figures from the porn industry,” as Deutsche Welle put it, were blocked by court order on Sept. 30, according to Engelli Web, which monitors access bans in the country. Germany’s Deutsche Welle Turkish, Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, and the opposition Halk TV were affected by the blanket ban on FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) files over a violation of personal rights.

The FinCEN files – and Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak’s alleged involvement with Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab detailed within – led to another round of blocks for left-wing daily BirGün, Cumhuriyet and a popular Turkish social network Ekşi Sözlük on Friday.

BirGün had reported on Zarrab doling out at least $800 million in bribes to Turkish officials, while Cumhuriyet’s report focused on another access ban over Albayrak aiding Zarrab. The banned topic on Ekşi Sözlük was titled, “Berat Albayrak and the FinCEN documents.”

Journalists from the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, which was shut down by a presidential decree in 2016, faced a judge for the 17th time, on Thursday, over charges of terrorist propaganda, praising a criminal and public incitement of criminal activity. Executive editor Hüseyin Aykol, editor-in-chief Reyhan Çapan and reporter Hasan Başak will face the judge for the 18th time on Dec. 2, as the court postponed the hearing to “complete missing documents,” pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency reported.

Mezopotamya itself has been subject to numerous bans and is currently on the 26th iteration of its URL. The agency reported on Saturday that its lawyers had just appealed the 23rd ban.

The court that issued the ban in the southeastern Gaziantep province did not follow procedure, Mezopotamya said. According to the agency, the court failed to notify it of which content was to be removed or what laws had been violated.

In their appeal, the agency’s defence team argued that the ban constituted censorship and violated Articles 26 and 28 of the Turkish Constitution, as well as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of expression and press freedom.

Meanwhile, pro-government outlet Yeni Şafak announced that Turkey's media watchdog Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) could ban Spotify as the music streaming giant had not applied for a broadcasting licence.