ISTANBUL —The saying goes that if the word “but” is featured in a sentence, nothing that comes before it should be taken seriously. Whether this is always true, I don’t really know, but what happened after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan targeted Twitter at a political rally in Bursa reminds me of this thesis.
“We do not want the Internet to be censored, but Twitter does not recognize Turkey,” Erdogan said during one of his more tempered moments. The utterance is dangerously similar to the reasoning for Law No: 5651, also known as the Internet Act.
When it was passed in 2007, license to regulate the Internet was justified based on fears about child pornography (“OK, but do you want child pornography to be distributed easily?”). Today’s excuse is even more slick — this claim that Turkey is not being “recognized.”
But the illegal censorship we are experiencing now is neither about protecting the rights of individuals nor about silencing a few people. The Twitter ban in Egypt — which has been followed in the last few days with blocks on YouTube and Google DNS — is the allergic reaction of an embattled leader who does not tolerate criticism and expects total submission without question by his people.
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The latest censorship on YouTube came hours after an audio recording of a high-level security meeting was leaked on the video-sharing website, and after other recordings have of Erdogan’s indiscretions have put the leader on the political hot seat. Turkey’s telecommunications authority (TIB) made the decision as a “precautionary administrative measure.” In February, Turkey passed a controversial, much-criticized new Internet law that allows the telecommunications regulator to block websites without a court order.
The Google DNS service was banned without any administrative decision, which is no different than shutting down the entire communications infrastructure to guard against the possibility of citizens speaking undesirable things to one other. Or of shutting down the postal service over fear that someone might write something objectionable and mail it.
Blocking Twitter wholesale was equally illegal. The government defended Law No: 5651 in 2007 by saying, “From now on, the websites will not be blocked as a whole, just the parts that feature inconvenient content.”
What is this then?
The government is attempting to transfer its intolerance to the Internet by its front organization: The Presidency of Telecommunication (TIB). Even critical news from foreign newspapers is inconvenient. For example, an article from British newspaper The Guardian on the subject of censorship in Turkey was inaccessible as I was writing this column.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a vision of Turkey in his mind that is scary for everybody but himself and his family. (Remember the kids who were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by the police because they were using their real names on Twitter during the Gezi events?) The administration is trying to silence every undesirable critic while Twitter is putting up resistance against the government to remain a venue where everybody can express ideas freely.
We all may need that someday.