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24th Mar 2019

Turkey's Twitter ban prompts instant EU criticism

  • Erdogan's Twitter ban is the latest in a series of crackdowns on critics (Photo: Fortum Sverige)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attracted fresh criticism in EU circles after banning Twitter.

The EU commissioner on digital affairs, Neelie Kroes, tweeted on Thursday (20 March) that the move “is groundless, pointless, cowardly. Turkish people and intl [international] community will see this as censorship. It is.”

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Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, himself a prolific user of the US micro-blogging site, noted: “Erdogan is not only damaging himself, but his entire nation.”

The EU’s former ambassador to Turkey, Marc Pierini, now an analyst at the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said: “Turkey is estranging itself from the world.”

The ban entered into force shortly before midnight on Thursday.

It came just a few hours after Erdogan at a party rally in Bursa, near Istanbul, ahead of local elections on 30 March, said: “We now have a court order. We will dig up Twitter and so on - all of them - by the roots… I don't care what the international community says. They will see the Turkish republic's strength.”

His press service later noted: “It is stated that as long as Twitter fails to change its attitude of ignoring court rulings and not doing what is necessary according to the law, technically, there might be no remedy but to block access in order to relieve our citizens.”

The “court rulings” refer to a Twitter account called Haramzadeler, meaning “son of thieves” in Turkish, which has been publishing leaked documents on alleged corruption in Erdogan’s inner circle.

The Haramzadeler leaks are part of wider anti-Erdogan exposures which began late last year, when he fell out with Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic teacher living in the US, over education reforms.

A Turkish official told Reuters “at the moment there is no [similar] decision for other social media like Facebook.”

The Twitter ban comes after Turkey in February passed a new law giving authorities the right to block access to websites if they are seen as having "insulting” content.

It also comes after Erdogan established political control over judicial appointments and fired hundreds of policemen and prosecutors looking into the corruption affair.

Even before the new measures, Turkey already ranked among the lowest of the low in terms of free speech.

It arrested more government-critical journalists than China or Iran last year, while the Twitter ban puts it in the company of China, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Pakistan.

Some MEPs have said accession talks, revived last year after a long gap, should once again be put on hold, while some EU officials, in private conversations, have likened Erdogan to Europe’s Communist-era autocrats.

Amid mounting, and at times deadly, clashes between young anti-government protesters and Erdogan’s police, the Twitter ban also risks backfiring inside Turkey, which has more than 12 million Twitter users.

Twitter itself noted that users can get round the ban by posting tweets via SMS-es from their mobile phones.

Meanwhile, the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey trended to the top of worldwide postings on the site late on Thursday and early on Friday, with the majority of the #TwitterisblockedinTurkey posts coming from inside Turkey despite the restriction.

“Closing barn door after cow fled,” Ken Roth, the head of the New-York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, said.

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