On 4 February, in my blog about the recent changes to the Internet law, I wrote:
“The government in Turkey, once again, is failing to grasp the realities of today’s world. Turkey’s policy makers and their advisers may think that the modern communications is there to achieve better surveillance against their citizens and to counter their opponents. .They are being naive if they believe the voices on the internet can bought or silenced as easily as the traditional media. This time, the Erdoğan government may have bitten off more than they could chew. We may yet discover the meaning of “civil disobedience” in Turkey.”
On 20 March, hours after the Prime Minister Erdogan vowed that he would “eradicate” it, Twitter was shut down.
Turkey’s 12 million Twitter users found an online notice from the state telecommunications authority stating that the micro-blogging site was blocked by a court.
Just as I predicted, the ban have badly misfired.
Within minutes, information on how to get round the ban began to circulate by the users of other social media sites such as Facebook. Twitter users changed their domain name settings (DNS) on their computers and mobile phones to conceal their geographical location and managed to log on.
Twitter’s @policy account has also sent advice to users on how to bypass the ban by using text message to post tweets.
More than a half a million tweets were posted within hours after the shut-down. The hashtag #twitterblockedturkey became a trending topic worldwide.
During the early hours of the morning, many more new users from Turkey joined Twitter.
Angry reactions to block Twitter started to pour in from every corner of the world.
With comments such as “groundless, pointless, cowardly, draconian censorship”, critics of the ban have likened Turkey to North Korea, China and Iran.
Most of all, Twitter users worldwide ridiculed Turkey’s rulers for their heavy-handedness and lack of understanding of how the modern media works.
Mockery turned into derision when the president of the country that signed the Internet bill only a few weeks ago flouted the ban and came on Twitter.
““A complete ban on social media platforms cannot be approved” said Abdullah Gül, as if he was the president of another distant country, who had nothing to do with the legal justification used for the ban.
Some foreign news organisations, including the BBC, did not question the disingenuousness of the statement. “Turkey’s President Gul challenges PM’s move “they said.
Metin Feyzioglu , the head of the national bar association, TTB, filed an emergency petition right away. He was told that there was no court judgment banning Twitter.
Feyzioğlu later released a statement saying: “ A total ban on Twitter access is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Turkish Constitution and Law 5651 that includes Internet regulations”. The TTB has applied to the courts for the immediate lifting of the ban. In addition, criminal complaints have been filed for those responsible for the ban and its application.
Twitter, too, has taken action against the government’s ban on access, hiring a lawyer and starting negotiations with the government.
It will be interesting to see how soon they will manage to restore access; for manage they will, because such a ban is not sustainable for long and it starts to hurt those behind it just as much.
However, strongly worded statements from international organisations and various foreign ministeries alone do not seem to rattle the government any more.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that recently ruled on the imprisonment of the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), saying Ocalan’s solitary confinement was “inhuman”, was slammed by the Prime minister on a television programme the previous night. Mr Erdoğan described the court decision as “being far from reality” and claimed the ECHR was aiming to create trouble in Turkey.
Compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights? Respecting the principles of open governance that are critical to democratic governance and the universal rights?
As the former EU ambassador Marc Pierini said in his reaction to Twitter ban, “”Turkey is now in a different league”.
How else could the Prime Minister stand up and declare: “Twitter, shmwitter; We will wipe them all off. I do not care what the international community says”?
This post is also available in: Turkish