Turkey Blocks Russian Website to Extend Crack Down on Media

Ankara, Turkey (SCF) – On April 14, Turkey’s Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication (TİB) blocked access to Russia’s state news agency website Sputnik, without issuing prior notification, citing «legal consideration» of a law regarding crimes committed through online broadcasts.

On April 16, Turkey’s Golbasi District court in the Ankara province approved the decision of the TİB to block access to a number of media outlets in the country, including the Sputnik News agency website. No one representing the blocked outlet was present during the court hearings. Now Turkish users are denied entry to all Sputnik website pages in 31 languages.

It’s worth to note that the outlet was blocked hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin made comments criticizing some political leaders in Turkey. «Turkey has been, and remains, a friend and partner of Russia. However, problems arise with the leaders of countries whose responses to situations are inadequate». Putin said in a televised national phone-in.

He also said that «Turkish authorities are not so much fighting with the radicals, but cooperating with them».

«This blocking is only the latest in a series of issues that I have voiced over the years with regard to freedom of expression on the internet in Turkey», the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement.

Dogan Özgüden, chief editor of Info-Turk, a non-government information center, described the decision to block Sputnik as «disgusting». «As one of the eldest journalists of Turkey, I express my entire solidarity with the website Sputnik and its journalists», Özgüden said.

«It is not astonishing to see Sputnik forbidden in Turkey while many Turkish newspapers and journalists undergo a savage repression when they come against Erdogan’s archaic Islamist orientation», he added.

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the EU’s refugee deal with Turkey must not lead to concessions on human rights.

«On the contrary, we must denounce these violations and permanently stay in discussions with Turkey on freedom of expression and human rights issues», the politician pointed out.

Human rights groups and some Turkish media decry what they say has been an unprecedented crackdown on opposition voices in Turkey. Many politicians inside the European Union, which Ankara aspires to join, have also expressed concerns over media freedoms in Turkey.

For instance, Turkey faced strong criticism from the European Parliament (EP), which issued a resolution agreed on April 14, causing a stir and striking some observers as the harshest criticism of Turkey ever.

The resolution denounced «serious backsliding on fundamental freedoms», including the growth of clashes in the southeast of Turkey and government’s «violent and illegal take-over of several newspapers including Zaman».

The raid on the Zaman newspaper headquarters in March is still in media spotlight. Turkey’s biggest newspaper was taken over by the authorities after a court ruling placed it under state control. No explanation was given for the ruling. President Erdogan’s apparent distaste for independent media extends to other nations as well. Turkey has blocked Twitter and Facebook more than once arresting foreign journalists accused of «terrorism».

It should be noted here that Turkey ranks 149th amongst the 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2015.

More than 30 journalists are currently held behind bars.

According to a Human Rights Watch 2015 report, Turkey is witnessing a crackdown on media freedom under Erdogan’s rule, with many journalists facing prison terms for reporting on corruption and surveillance by the Turkish state.

Erdogan in Turkey. Image Source: valeriy osipov, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Erdogan in Turkey.
Image Source: valeriy osipov, Flickr, Creative Commons.

The Amnesty International 2015-2016 report comes to conclusion, that the human rights situation in Turkey has deteriorated markedly following parliamentary elections in June 2015. The media faced unprecedented pressure from the government; free expression online and offline suffered significantly. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continued to be violated. Cases of excessive use of force by police and ill-treatment in detention increased. Impunity for human rights abuses persisted. The independence of the judiciary was further eroded.

The evidence of Turkey’s flagrant violations of human rights, including the crackdown of the freedom of speech, is plentiful. It is done in broad daylight with the EU and the US turning a blind eye to the fact. By subcontracting its border management to Ankara’s increasingly authoritarian regime, the European Union is insulting its own values.

So does the US government. Usually so eloquent when it comes to slamming other nations for human rights violations, it prefers to stick to the principle of double standards in the given case. Take the State Department briefing on April 15. The Foggy Bottom spokesperson John Kirby masterly showed great knowledge and command of tap dancing to dodge the questions about Turkey’s blatant disregard for the very same values the US likes to preach so much. As he put it, «So we are aware of reports that there’s no access to Sputnik – the Sputnik website from Turkey. We’d refer you to Turkish authorities for further information about that. But broadly speaking and not specifically on this, as you know, we encourage all governments to take every precaution to protect freedom of expression». «…broadly speaking, we have made – have been very clear about our belief in the freedom of expression in Turkey and elsewhere. As for this particular report, which, as I – as far as I know, we’ve only just become aware of, I’d refer you to Turkish authorities. We’re aware of reports that Sputnik is blocked in Turkey. The Turkish Government is the place to go to ask these particular questions», he added.

You are free to interpret it anyway you want.

The West’s connivance and adherence to the double standards is at the root of the problem. The situation with human rights in Turkey is doomed to deteriorate further until NATO, the EU, the OSCE and the UN raise the issue to make it part of the global human rights agenda. Otherwise, all the words about the importance of human rights in the contemporary world will be nothing but highfalutin speeches.

This report was prepared by PETER KORZUN for Strategic Culture Foundation.