Turkey’s Prime Minister has threatened to ban social networking sites where recent corruption leaks have gone viral.
Late last Thursday, in a private interview with ATV television, Erdogan said: “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”
“There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30 … including a ban [on YouTube, Facebook],” adding to the restrictions that have already been put in place.
Over a million people listened to the recordings within 12 hours, having first been posted to Soundcloud and shared primarily via social networks, where users also voiced their discontent about the Erodgan government.
In one of the leaked conversations, it appears as if Erdogan is instructing his son to dispose of hidden funds amid a corruption investigation. While in another recording, Erdogan discusses easing zoning laws for a construction tycoon in exchange for two villas for his family.
President Abdullah Gul, a frequent social media user, said that despite the Prime Ministers threat, social media sites would not be blocked in Turkey.
“YouTube and Facebook are recognized platforms all over the world. A ban is out of the question.”
Controversial internet censorship
After the 2013 protests, where social media played a key part due to a media blackout, Erdogan has been attempting to tighten his government’s grip on the internet, drawing international criticism.
As early as June last year, Erdoğan accused “internal traitors and external collaborators” of orchestrating the protests using social media.
He said: “Social media was prepared for this, made equipped. The strongest advertising companies of our country, certain capital groups, the interest rate lobby, organisations on the inside and outside, hubs, they were ready, equipped for this.”
On 24 January 2014, access to SoundCloud, a popular audio sharing site, was blocked indefinitely by the Turkish government, partly due to the release of secretly recorded phone calls between the PM and his family, local politicians and businessmen.
Following the leaks, on 5 February 2014, the Turkish Parliament adopted a controversial new Internet law that sparked protests across Istanbul.
Thousands marched against the new “draconian” law which allows the government to block any website within 24 hours, without needing a court ruling, and requires Internet providers to store all data on web users’ activities for two years.
However, the law must be signed by the Turkish president Gül to come into effect. Erogan is under both domestic and foreign pressure not to ratify the legislation, which he claims are to make the internet “more safe and free”.
According to Engelliweb.com, 10,000 more websites have been blocked this year in Turkey compared to last year, bringing the total to over 40,000.
Speaking to The Guardian, Özgür Uçkan, member of the Alternative Informatics Association and professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said: “The new internet law is catastrophic for Turkey.
“It makes censorship and surveillance legal in Turkey, which is contrary to our constitution and to all international conventions that Turkey is party to.”
Corruption in Turkey
Allegations of corruption first took place late last year, when on 17 December 2013, Istanbul’s Security Directory detained 47 people, including officials from Turkeys Housing Development Administration of Turkey, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, and the District Municipality of Fatih.
The police confiscated $17.5 million as money used in bribery during the investigation.
During the initial phase of the investigation, prosecutors accused 14 people of bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering and smuggling gold. In total, 91 people were detained in the investigation, with 26 of them being arrested by the court.
A second wave of arrests soon followed, with several newspapers reporting that a new investigation was expected on 26 December, involving Prime Minister Erdoğan’s sons, Bilal and Burak, as well as certain Al-Qaeda affiliates from Saudi Arabia.
However, since the beginning of the investigation, the Turkish government has attempted to purge the police force, removing hundreds of police officers from their positions, including chiefs of the units dealing with financial crimes, smuggling and organised crime.
Prime Minister Erdoğan has described the corruption investigation as a “judicial coup” backed by foreigners and those jealous of his success.
One of those accused of orchestrating this scandal is US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, leader of the Gulen movement, a “pacifist, modern-minded” transnational religious and social movement.
In emailed comments to the Wall Street Journal in January 2014, Gülen said that “Turkish people … are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed”, but denied being part of a plot to unseat the government.