Internet censorship in Turkey

The legal basis for censorship in Turkey generally stem from statutes that limit speech deemed insulting to Turkishness and expressions of political extremism. Censorship in Turkey is regulated by domestic and international legislation—which takes precedence over domestic law, according to Article 90 ("Ratification of International Treaties") of the Constitution (so amended in 2004).[1] Despite the protections presented in article 90, Turkey ranked 138 in the Reporters Without Borders' 2010 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index.[2] In 2011-2012 Turkey ranked 148 out of 169 countries in the Reporters Without Borders list. Within the framework of negotiations with the European Union, the EU has requested that Turkey issue various legal reforms in order to improve freedom of expression and press.


Further information: Multi-party period of Turkey

Regional censorship predates the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. On 15 February 1857, the Ottoman Empire issued law governing printing houses ("Basmahane Nizamnamesi"); books first had to be shown to the governor, who forwarded them to commission for education ("Maarif Meclisi") and the police. If no objection was made, the Sultanate would then inspect them. Without censure from the Sultan books could not be legally issued.[3] On 24 July 1908, at the beginning of the Second Constitutional Era, censorship was lifted; however, newspapers publishing stories that were deemed a danger to interior or exterior State security were closed.[3] Between 1909 and 1913 four journalists were killed—Hasan Fehmi, Ahmet Samim, Zeki Bey, and Hasan Tahsin (Silahçı).[4]

Following the Turkish War of Independence, the Sheikh Said rebellion was used as pretext for implementing martial law ("Takrir-i Sükun Yasası") on March 4, 1925; newspapers, including Tevhid-i Efkar, Sebül Reşat, Aydınlık, Resimli Ay, and Vatan, were closed and several journalists arrested and tried at the Independence Courts.[3]

During World War II (1939–1945) many newspapers were ordered shut, including the dailies Cumhuriyet (5 times, for 5 months and 9 days), Tan (7 times, for 2 months and 13 days), and Vatan (9 times, for 7 months and 24 day).[3]

When the Democratic Party under Adnan Menderes came to power in 1950, censorship entered a new phase. The Press Law changed, sentences and fines were increased. Several newspapers were ordered shut, including the dailies Ulus (unlimited ban), Hürriyet, Tercüman, and Hergün (two weeks each). In April 1960, a so-called investigation commission ("Tahkikat Komisyonu") was established by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. It was given the power to confiscate publications, close papers and printing houses. Anyone not following the decisions of the commission were subject to imprisonment, between one and three years.[3]

Freedom of speech was heavily restricted after the 1980 military coup headed by General Kenan Evren. Today, broaching the topics of secularism, minority rights (in particular the Kurdish issue), and the role of the military in politics risks reprisal.[5][5]

Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (Law 3713), slightly amended in 1995 and later repealed,[6] imposed three-year prison sentences for "separatist propaganda." Despite its name, the Anti-Terror Law punished many non-violent offences.[5] Pacifists have been imprisoned under Article 8. For example, publisher Fatih Tas was prosecuted in 2002 under Article 8 at Istanbul State Security Court for translating and publishing writings by Noam Chomsky, summarizing the history of human rights violations in southeast Turkey; he was acquitted, however, in February 2002.[5] Prominent female publisher Ayse Nur Zarakolu, who was described by the New York Times as "[o]ne of the most relentless challengers to Turkey's press laws", was imprisoned under Article 8 four times.[7][8]

Turkey’s Journalists Union estimated that at least "72 journalists had been fired or forced to take leave or had resigned in the past six weeks since the start of the unrest" in late May 2013 due to pressure from the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) government. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP) party, said 64 journalists have been imprisoned and “We are now facing a new period where the media is controlled by the government and the police and where most media bosses take orders from political authorities.” The government says most of the imprisoned journalists have been detained for serious crimes, like membership in an armed terrorist group, that are not related to journalism.[9][10]


Expressions of non-violent opinion are safeguarded by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ratified by Turkey in 1954, and various provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Turkey in 2000.[5] Many Turkish citizens convicted under the laws mentioned below have applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and won their cases.[5]

Beside the Article 301, amended in 2008, and Article 312, more than 300 provisions constrained freedom of expression, religion, and association, according to the Turkish Human Rights Association (2002).[5] Many of the repressive provisions found in the Press Law, the Political Parties Law, the Trade Union Law, the Law on Associations, and other legislation were imposed by the military junta after its coup in 1980.

Article 301

Article 301 is a law, which between June 2005 and April 2008 made it a punishable offense to insult Turkishness. On 30 April 2008 a series of changes were made, including changing "Turkishness" into "the Turkish nation" and an amendment which makes it obligatory to get the approval of the minister of justice before filing a case.[11][12] Before the Article was amended, charges were brought in more than 60 cases, some of which were high-profile.[13]

Novelist Orhan Pamuk, at the time a Nobel Prize candidate, was prosecuted under Article 301 for discussing the Armenian Genocide; Pamuk subsequently won the prize. Perihan Mağden, a columnist for the newspaper Radikal, was tried under the article for provocation, and acquitted on July 27, 2006; Mağden had broached the topic of conscientious objection to mandatory military service as an abuse of human rights.[14][15][16]

Article 312

Main article: Article 312 (Turkish Penal Code)

Article 312 of the criminal code imposes three-year prison sentences for incitement to commit an offence and incitement to religious or racial hatred. In 1999 the mayor of Istanbul and current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment under Article 312 for reading a few lines from a poem that had been authorized by the Ministry of Education for use in schools, and consequently had to resign.[5] In 2000 the chairman of the Human Rights Association, Akin Birdal, was imprisoned under Article 312 for a speech in which he called for "peace and understanding" between Kurds and Turks,[5] and thereafter forced to resign, as the Law on Associations forbids persons who breach this and several other laws from serving as association officials.[5] On February 6, 2002, a "mini-democracy package" was voted by Parliament, altering wording of Art. 312. Under the revised text, incitement can only be punished if it presents "a possible threat to public order."[5] The package also reduced the prison sentences for Article 159 of the criminal code from a maximum of six years to three years. None of the other laws had been amended or repealed as of 2002.[5]


Article 81 of the Political Parties Law (imposed by the military junta in 1982) forbids parties from using any language other than Turkish in their written material or at any formal or public meetings. This law is strictly enforced.[5] Kurdish deputy Leyla Zana was jailed in 1994, ostensibly for membership to the PKK.

Constitutional amendments adopted in October 2001 removed mention of "language forbidden by law" from legal provisions concerning free expression. Thereafter, university students began a campaign for optional courses in Kurdish to be put on the university curriculum, triggering more than 1,000 detentions throughout Turkey during December and January 2002.[5] Actions have also been taken against the Laz minority.[5] According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey only recognizes the language rights of the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities.[5] The government ignores Article 39(4) of the Treaty of Lausanne, which states that: "[n]o restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press or in publications of any kind or at public meetings."[5]

In 1991, laws outlawing communist (Articles 141 and 142 of the criminal code) and Islamic fundamentalist ideas (Article 163 of the criminal code) were repealed.[5] This package of legal changes substantially freed up expression of leftist thought, but simultaneously created a new offence of "separatist propaganda" under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law.[5] Prosecutors also began to use Article 312 of the criminal code (on religious or racial hatred) in place of Article 163.[5]

Pressured by the EU, Turkey has promised to review the Broadcasting Law.[5] State agency RTÜK continues to impose a large number of closure orders on TV and radio stations on the grounds that they have made separatist broadcasts.[5] In August 2001, RTÜK banned the BBC World Service and the Deutsche Welle on the grounds that their broadcasts "threatened national security."[5] A ban on broadcasting in Kurdish was lifted with certain qualifications in 2001 and 2002.[17] Other legal changes in August 2002 allowed for the teaching of languages, including Kurdish.[17] However, limitations on Kurdish broadcasting continue to be strong: according to the EU Commission (2006), "time restrictions apply, with the exception of films and music programmes. All broadcasts, except songs, must be subtitled or translated in Turkish, which makes live broadcasts technically cumbersome. Educational programmes teaching the Kurdish language are not allowed. The Turkish Public Television (TRT) has continued broadcasting in five languages including Kurdish. However, the duration and scope of TRT's national broadcasts in five languages is very limited. No private broadcaster at national level has applied for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish since the enactment of the 2004 legislation."[18] TRT broadcasts in Kurdish (as well as in Arab and Circassian dialect) are symbolic,[19] compared to satellite broadcasts by channels such as controversial Roj TV, based in Denmark.

Internet censorship

The Turkish government has implemented legal and institutional reforms driven by the country’s ambitions to become a European Union member state, while at the same time demonstrating its high sensitivity to defamation and other "inappropriate" online content, which has resulted in the closure of a number of local and international Web sites. All Internet traffic passes through Turk Telecom’s infrastructure, allowing centralized control over online content and facilitating the implementation of shutdown decisions.

In December 2010 the OpenNet Initiative, a non-partisan organization based in Canada and the United States that investigates, analyzes, and exposes Internet filtering and surveillance practices, classified Internet censorship in Turkey as selective (third lowest of four classifications) in the political, social, and Internet tools areas and found no evidence of censorship in the conflict/security area.[20]

In 2010 Reporters Without Borders, an international censorship watchdog organization, added Turkey to its list of 16 countries "under surveillance" (the less serious of two Internet censorship lists that it maintains), saying:

The year 2010 was marked by the widely covered deblocking of the video-sharing website YouTube which, unfortunately, did not equate to a lifting of online censorship in Turkey. In a country where taboo topics abound, several thousand websites are still inaccessible and legal proceedings against online journalists persist.[21]

In its Freedom on the Net 2013 report, Freedom House gave Turkey a "freedom on the net status" of "partly free" (the middle of three categories: "free", "partly free", and "not free"), saying that:[22]


Crimes committed via the Internet are regulated by law number 5651.[23]

Beside the older media control and censorship association, RTÜK, a new governmental association, Telecommunication and Transmission Authority, can impose bans on Internet sites without prior judicial approval, (i) if the offending Web site hosts content that is illegal under Turkish law and is hosted outside Turkey, or (ii) a Web site contains sexual abuse of children or obscenity and its host resides in Turkey.[20] The law prohibits:

  • crimes against Atatürk (Article 8/b),
  • offering or promoting prostitution,
  • providing place and opportunity for gambling,
  • unauthorized online gambling and betting,
  • sexual abuse of children,
  • encouraging suicide,
  • supplying drugs that are dangerous for health, and
  • facilitation of the abuse of drugs.

Web sites are also blocked for the following reasons:

  • downloading of MP3 and movies in violation of copyright laws,
  • insults against state organs and private persons
  • crimes related to terrorism
  • violation of trademark regulations
  • unfair trade regulated under the Turkish Commercial Code
  • violation of Articles 24, 25, 26, and 28 of the Constitution (freedoms of religion, expression, thought, and freedom of press).

The Turkish Telecommute Foundation has a website for public reports.[24] Decisions to block a web site can be appealed, but usually only after a site has been blocked. Nevertheless, due to the public profile of the major websites banned and the lack of juridical, technical, or ethical arguments to justify the censorship, the blocked sites are often available using proxies or by changing DNS servers.

Blocking of Internet sites

Web sites are blocked for intellectual property infringement, particularly file-sharing and streaming sites; for providing access to material that shows or promotes the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, obscenity, prostitution, or gambling; for insults to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey; for reporting news on southeastern Turkey and Kurdish issues; or which defame individuals. In addition to widespread filtering, state authorities are proactive in requesting the deletion or removal of content online.[22]

  • On 7 March 2007, Turkish courts imposed a ban on due to a speculative video that intentionally insulted Atatürk, a hero of WWI and the founder of modern Turkey. Before the judgement, the court asked YouTube to remove the video completely, but they refused, saying they could only make it invisible for the Turkish people.[25] a violation of article 8, dating back to 1951.[26] Two days later the ban was briefly lifted, then reinstated.[27]
  • By August 2008 hundreds of sites are temporarily blocked on similar grounds.[28][29] According to an August 2008 Milliyet article, 11494 complaints (mostly on grounds of indecency) have resulted in 853 motions to block.[30]
  • By mid-2008 growing discontent with the blocks resulted in a grass roots protest campaign organized by the Web site, which encouraged Web sites to replace their home page with an interstitial webpage titled "Access To This Site Is Denied By Its Own Decision."[28]
  • An October 2008 article in Radikal raised the number of blocked sites to 1112.[31] YouTube's parent, Google, decided to selectively prevent access to the offending videos to users in Turkey in order to prevent the entire site from being blocked. Turkish prosecutors, not content, demanded a global block in order not to offend Turkish users abroad. Google did not comply.[32]
  • In September 2008, Richard Dawkins' site,, was banned in Turkey as a result of complaints by Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar that his book Atlas of Creation, which contests the theory of evolution, had been defamed on Dawkins' website.[33]
  • In October 2008 the Turkish Minister of Transport Binali Yıldırım defended the bans, saying "Practices are needed to protect young people and the public at large from harmful material online."[34] The newspaper Taraf said that the persistent banning of Web sites can be attributed to judges inexperience in dealing with the Internet.[35]
  • In October 2008, the courts banned the Blogger (service), including the domain[36] after Lig TV (whose parent company is Digiturk) complained of copyright violation.[37] This ban was lifted after a few hours.
  • As of December 2008, after prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan encouraged people to work around the YouTube block, its number of visitors doubled making it the fifth-most visited Web site, according to[38]
  • As of June 2010, beside YouTube, more than 8000 major and minor websites were banned, most of them pornographic and mp3 sharing sites.
  • In 2010, the video sharing site Metacafe was banned by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TİB)[41] of Turkey after the posting of an alleged scandalous video of the former CHP leader Deniz Baykal.
  • During June 2010 Turkey's president Abdullah Gül used his Twitter account to express disapproval of the country's ban on YouTube and Google services. Gül said he had instructed officials to find legal ways of allowing access.[42]
  • Between July 2010 and October 2010, Turkey's ban of YouTube was expanded to a range of IP addresses offering services by YouTube's parent Google, including those of Google Docs, Google Translate, Google Books, Google Analytics, and Google Tools.[43]
  • Since September 2010, Kliptube has been blocked.[44]
  • In early September 2010, the online music search engine Grooveshark was banned by Turkish courts due to copyright violations.[45]
  • In October 2010, the ban of YouTube was lifted. But a range of IP addresses used by Google remained blocked, thus access to Google Apps hosted sites, including all Google App Engine powered sites and some of the Google services, remained blocked.
  • On January 1, 2011[verification needed], Turkish courts banned, a popular site builder owned by an Israeli company. The ban was later lifted at least from Turk Telekunikasyon A.S.[46][47]
  • On January 28, 2011, the popular imageboard 4chan was blocked.[48]
  • Beginning 2 March 2011 access to Blogspot was blocked, following a request by satellite television provider Digiturk; Digiturk alleged Blogger was being used to distribute material it holds the broadcast rights to.[49]
  • On 27 May 2011, popular file sharing services and were blocked.[50]
  • On 22 August 2011, under new regulations announced on 22 February 2011, the Information Technologies Board (BTK), an offshoot of the prime minister’s office, will allow all ISP users to select one of four levels of content filtering (family, children, domestic, or standard). However having no content filter chosen exactly equals to standard filter in terms of websites blocked.[51]
  • On 21 October 2011, the media streaming service Livestream was blocked by the Turkish Republic.[52] Later in June 2012 or earlier, the block was lifted.[53][verification needed]
  • Between January and June 2012 the number of content removal requests that Google received from Turkey increased by 1,013 percent compared to the previous six-month reporting period, according to the company's transparency reports.[22]
  • On 9 March 2012, Pastebin began being blocked by the Turkish Republic.[54] Later in June 2012 or earlier, the block was lifted but then reinstated.[53][verification needed]
  • In October 2012 sport streaming website
  • In the spring of 2013, there was an ongoing block of

Particular incidents

Nokta magazine

The headquarters of Nokta, an investigative magazine which has since been closed because of military pressures, were searched by police in April 2007, following the publication of articles examining alleged links between the Office of the Chief of Staff and some NGOs, and questioning the military's connection to officially civilian anti-government rallies.[56][57] The magazine also gave details on military blacklistings of journalists, ad well as two plans for a military coup, by retired generals, aiming to overthrow the AK Party government in 2004.[58] Nokta had also revealed military accreditations for press organs, deciding to whom the military should provide information.[59]

Alper Görmüş, editor of Nokta, was charged with insult and libel (under articles 267 and 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, TPC), and faced a possible prison sentence of over six years, for publishing the excerpts of the alleged journal of Naval Commander Örnek in the magazine’s March 29, 2007 issue.[56] Nokta journalist Ahmet Şık and defense expert journalist Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu were also indicted on May 7, 2007 under Article 301 for "insulting the armed forces" in connection with an interview Şık conducted with Sarıibrahimoğlu.[56]

Valley of the Wolves: Terror

Early in 2007, the Turkish government banned a popular television series called Valley of the Wolves, citing the show's violent themes. The TV show inspired a Turkish-made movie by the same name, which included American actor Gary Busey. Busey played an American doctor who removed organs from Iraqi prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and sold the harvested organs on the black market. The movie was pulled from theaters in the United States after the Anti-Defamation League complained to the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. about the movie's portrayal of Jews.[60]

Michael Dickinson

In June 2006, police seized a collage by British artist Michael Dickinson — which showed the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a dog being given a [61] rosette by President Bush — and told him he would be prosecuted.[61] Charles Thomson, leader of the Stuckism movement, of which Dickinson is a member, wrote to then UK prime minister, Tony Blair in protest. The Times commented: "The case could greatly embarrass Turkey and Britain, for it raises questions about Turkey’s human rights record as it seeks EU membership, with Tony Blair’s backing."[62] The prosecutor declined to present a case, until Dickinson then displayed another similar collage outside the court. He was then held for ten days[63] and told he would be prosecuted[64] for "insulting the Prime Minister's dignity".[65] In September 2008, he was acquitted, the judge ruling that "insulting elements" were "within the limits of criticism".[66] Dickinson said, "I am lucky to be acquitted. There are still artists in Turkey facing prosecution and being sentenced for their opinions."[66]

Editor of Taraf (2009)

In January 2009 Adnan Demir, editor of the provotical newspaper Taraf, was charged with divulging secret military information, under Article 336 of the Turkish Criminal Code.[67] He was accused of having published an article in October 2008 that alleged police and military had been warned of an imminent PKK attack that same month, an attack which resulted in the death of 13 soldiers.[67] Demir faces up to 5 years of prison.[67] On 29 December 2009 İstanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 13 acquitted Adnan Demir.[68]

Media Markt advertisement scandal in Eskişehir

Eskişehir’s Turkish Union Association motivated suspension of an advertisement campaign by Media Markt that the group claimed “insult Turkishness” by depicting consumers with animal heads goose -a cow, a carp and a sheep, each chosen for its implication of foolishness- that purchased overpriced merchandise. In the advertisements they used sentences such as "Am I a sheep?" "Am I bird-brained?" (Common insults in Turkish).[69]

What happened in Eskişehir is far from Media Markt’s first advertising scandal. In 2006, the company ran commercials in Poland that referenced the German stereotype of Polish people as thieves, which caused a public outcry and forced the company to apologise. Similarly, a 2008 campaign in Portugal that depicted a boy scout as an idiot prompted a petition for the removal of the ad. The company’s main slogan, “I am not an idiot,” is also provocative. The slogan, which is translated as “fool” or “crazy” outside Germany, does not run in Turkey.” [69]

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Censorship in Turkey, International Freedom of Expression Exchange
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • English translation); A grassroots protest site
  • Freedom of the Press in Turkey: The Sultan Likes His Press Meek,, 5 March 2009
  • (Disabled Web); lists 15,000+ banned websites in Turkey as of September 2011
  • [1]
  • Marc Pierini with Markus Mayr, January 2013, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Dilek Kurban, Ceren Sözeri, June 2012, ISBN 978-605-5332-18-1

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