#TwitterisblockedinTurkey and so is Erdogan

erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister (EC Audiovisual Services)

Last Thursday night Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially ‘declared war’ to Twitter. With a public, old authoritarianism-scented speech at late evening, he announced that he wants to “eradicate Twitter”, adding that the social media platform is a “menace” and he’s “not interested in what the international community says”. “They will see the power of the Turkish Republic”, he cried, taking into actions what he announced weeks ago. The ban came only a few weeks after Erdogan first threatened to shut down major social networks like Facebook and YouTube, which he says were used by his enemies and detractors against him. The cause of the anti-social-network acts is merely political indeed.

Mr Erdogan’s attempt to close down Twitter comes only 10 days before March 30th municipal elections in Turkey, which look like an actual referendum on his leadership, after more than 10 years in power. Erdogan knows these elections are crucial and he apparently decided it was time to stop the circulation of “dangerous” news. The PM has been under pressure for weeks as unknown Twitter users used the micro-blogging platform to publish links to the recording of alleged telephone conversations, which purportedly reveal corruption and power abuse in his inner circles. In one of these conversations, which was recorded last December, Erdogan allegedly tells his son how to hide away some money, while he speaks with editors about firing newspaper journalists in some others. The powerful man of Turkey has repeatedly stated that all the recordings are fake, and that he has nothing to do with the corruption imputations.

As reported by many newspapers around the globe, Erdogan argues that the corruption allegations were part of a conspiracy by followers of the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Some analysts believe that Gulen supporters are using their networks in the police and judiciary to help oust Erdogan’s Party, the AKP, from power. Gulen has denied any implication, and rejects claims that his movement is political.

“In these incidents, there is not just wiretapping, there is also filming,” Erdogan said in Ankara in early March, and he was actually fully aware of the whole thing. Indeed many expect more explosive revelations to be unveiled from now till the 30th of March, as also extramarital scandal rumor began to circulate last weekend. Turkey’s PM was allegedly filmed in a sex tape with an unknown woman, which many report to be former Miss Turkey Defne Samyeli.

Erdogan’s Twitter crackdown appears to be targeting those leaks, to prevent his image from being heavily damaged before the elections, regardless of the recording being real or fake. Most of the analysts predict that the AKP will remain Turkey’s strongest political act with around 40 percent of the votes (AKP won almost 50 percent in general elections in 2011), but as the rumors and scandals grow, there’s no risk that Erdogan can take with a grin.

Mr Erdogan, which serves as Prime Minister in Turkey since 2003, had initially shown himself as a tolerant, western-oriented leader, which actually put his country inside important negotiations with the EU and the USA for a long time. In recent years, however, the Prime Minister has become more authoritarian, and many opposition leaders now call him a “dictator”. Things became critical last year when, in May 2013, the government announced plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park into a shopping mall. Thousands of people went to Taksim Square and Gezi Park to protest against the plan and Erdogan’s government. The police responded with huge crackdowns and more often with brutal actions which resulted in 8 casualties.

Now it’s Erdogan vs protesters again, and to be honest, it seems that the PM’s Twitter ban is not going anywhere. Tech-savvy Turkish Internet users, even President Abdullah Gul, have broken the ban indeed, and soon found a way to tweet via text, by changing their domain name system (DNS) settings. Some large Turkish news websites also published step-by-step instructions on how to change DNS settings. A Turkish website, Zete.com, said 2.5 million tweets had been posted since the ban, reportedly setting traffic records in Turkey, and the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey was among the top trending in the world last Friday.

Reactions to Erdogan’s strong act were fierce

President Gul himself expressed his disapproval of the ban on Friday: “The shutdown of an entire social platform is unacceptable,” he tweeted, setting himself at odds with Prime Minister.
“The decision to block Twitter is an unprecedented attack on freedom of expression in Turkey”, said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, in a public statement, as reported by the 
Guardian last Friday. “The draconian measure, brought under Turkey’s restrictive Internet law, shows the lengths the government is prepared to go to prevent anti-government criticism.”

The European Union said it was worried about the move, with Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, describing the blocking of the site as “groundless, pointless, cowardly.” Štefan Füle, responsible for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy to Turkey, said in a statement: “The ban on the social platform Twitter in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.”

This is the EU members’ common view on the matter. The UK Foreign Office expressed its “concern” over a recent statement, adding that “Social media have a vital role to play in a modern democracy, and help to promote transparency and vibrant public debate”. The UK also urged the authorities in Turkey to reconsider any ban on access to social media. Also Germany said the move did not fit with its view of freedom of expression.

A strong blame of Prime Minister Erdogan’s move came immediately from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), through the voice of Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović. “Blocking Twitter and threatening to close social media websites only adds to the many concerns about media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey”, Mijatović said in an official OCSE statement last Friday, right a few hours after the ban. “Turkish authorities must realize that banning websites, and blaming social media for tensions in the society will only lead to the weakening of freedom of expression, an indispensable element of democracies”, she added.

This is something the Turkish ‘sultan’ must consider carefully. Turkey has the eighth highest Twitter usage of any country in the world, and one of the highest rates of total internet users. Hence, every move against such well recognized communication tool won’t pass without accidents, or without widespread protest at least.
The ‘Sultan’, which is now into a big political debate with his opponents, has been for years the man who was bringing Turkey to Europe.

Nobody knows how the “Twitter order” will impact Turkey’s road towards Europe yet, and what future lies ahead of this country. I‘ m only afraid though that, since last Friday morning, the Bosphorus is a bit larger than before.

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