A senior member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said that his government banned Twitter last week because he said Turkish citizens cannot handle pornographic photos, insults and swearing that he said takes place on the social media network.
The Turkish government banned Twitter late last week in what most believe was retaliation against the network as users in Turkey were tweeting links to recordings of government officials — including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — allegedly engaging in corrupt activities.
The ban has been widely criticized around the world. The United States, the European Union and even some top Turkish officials — including the opposition party and President Abdullah Gül, who is a member of the AKP — have condemned the ban. But Burhan Kuzu, head of Turkey’s parliamentary constitutional commission and a senior member of the AKP, defended the ban in an interview on Sunday with Al Jazeera.
“This is the most important issue for us. There are insults, swearing and porn about Turkish citizens on Twitter,” he said. “Or some European countries can handle some content as a society while Turkey cannot. There is content where photos of women are used in porn through Twitter. Turkish society cannot handle that. It is a matter of perception.”
While the ban initially backfired, as Turkish citizens began using alternate routes to Twitter, the Turkish government has since closed those loopholes. Erdoğan has said that Twitter is a “menace to society” and he attacked Twitter again on Sunday, saying that it should “obey Turkish law.”
“Twitter obeys the American Constitution, British, German, Chinese, and Russian [laws]. But when it comes to Ukraine, when it comes to Egypt, when it comes to Turkey, it speaks about freedom,” he said at a campaign rally. “We are not a third world country. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube should respect the Turkish Constitution and obey Turkish laws.”
Erdoğan is referring to a widely criticized law passed last month in Turkey that allows the government to block access to web pages without a court order. The Turkish government issued the ban last week claiming that Twitter refused to remove certain content.
The current crisis in Turkey comes in the wider context of deteriorating rights to press freedom there, which experts and advocacy groups said has reached a “crisis point.”
Turkey has jailed more journalists in recent years than any other country, including China and Iran, which is mainly due the so-called “Kurdish issue,” the role of the military in Turkish society and politics, and wide interpretations of Turkey’s anti-terror laws. But CAP’s Max Hoffman and Michael Werz note in a report released last year that drawing comparisons to jailed journalists in Turkey versus more repressive regimes is “off base.”
“Some organizations monitoring the situation in Turkey have drawn such comparisons in order to attract attention to the plight of imprisoned journalists, and while their motives may be good, such overreach undermines the wider political effort to ensure reform, as it provides the government with the opportunity to dismiss all outside criticism as overhyped,” they write, adding, “Turkey’s crisis of press freedom extends beyond the outright silencing of journalists through imprisonment.”
Indeed, Erdoğan himself is part of this problem as he has given “increasingly aggressive responses to criticism from the press” since he came to power in 2002, including calling out reporters and columnists by name for what he deems to be unfair coverage. Erdoğan, according to Hoffman and Werz, “has come to view any criticism of his government as a personal attack.”
Pressure from Erdoğan and his government has meant that many journalists in Turkey now self-censor themselves to avoid internal wranglings from their bosses who are more interested in securing government contracts for other business interests than criticizing Erdoğan. This troubling cycle played out last summer during widespread protests against Erdogan and his ruling AKP when one mainstream television news network aired a documentary about penguins instead of showing live coverage of the mass demonstrations. At that time, the Turkish government also fined a television station for airing live coverage of the protests, arguing that the network was “harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people.”
Marc Pierini, former E.U. ambassador to Turkey and expert on press freedom in Turkey, has also said that the personal and adversarial relationships among and between reporters and politicians fuels the issue of deteriorating press freedom. “Because the political culture [in Turkey] is so vivid,” he said in an interview with ThinkProgress last year, journalists and government officials “go after people instead of discussing issues. That has to change.”
Meanwhile, the Twitter ban in Turkey continued on Monday. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu doesn’t appear to be taking Pierini’s advice, bashing Erdoğan for the ban. “They banned Twitter. Twitter is mostly used by young people. You have created a prime minister who fears 140 characters,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
“I’m giving him [Erdoğan] a title: He’s not an ordinary thief; he is the Thief-in-Chief. And now all the world knows his new title. Have you ever seen another politician who called Twitter ‘a trouble’ and promised to close down Facebook and Twitter?”