What do words like 'blonde', 'animal' and 'sister-in-law' have in common? They're all on the list of 138 words that the Turkish High Council for Telecommunications (HCT) is planning to ban from domain names in Turkey. The new ruling is scheduled to come into action in August. But what exactly is the problem with those words? This is the question raised by Yaman Deniz, a law professor at the Bilgi University in Istanbul, in an open letter to the HCT, an institution notorious for its continuous attempts to control the internet.
‘‘It is in the public interest that the reasoning behind this document is explained, as required by Article 1 of the 'right to information' law », Deniz says in his letter. According to Faruk Eczacibasi, the President of the Turkish Foundation for Information Technology, the Turkish internet law has no 'judicial foundations and doesn't serve anyone – but still it persists’’.
"90 000 websites may be forbidden"
The new version of the law has been adopted in April without the slightest consultation of civil society organisations. Up to now, around 7000 websites are already banned by the HCT. Once the law comes into action it will block surfers from thousands of new web adresses. “Up to 90 000 websites may be forbidden from one day to the other” says Murat Deligöz, the general manager of Ontek, a Turkish internet provider. Among those websites, many have completely harmless content, ranging from supermarket home delivery services to football fan websites.
The HCT announced that violators of the law will be held accountable, but did not specify the nature of sanctions nor the judicial basis for any form of punishment. According to the censors, those restrictions are justified by a whole list of reasons: “Protection of the family, children, teenagers, and human dignity” and the “Prevention of sexual crimes, obscenities, suicides, prostitution and gambling”. One reason sticks out: “preventing crimes against the personality of Atatürk”.
This last argument has been frequently used in recent years to block popular international websites such as YouTube. In Turkey, YouTube has been inaccessible for more than two years due to a video that was deemed 'disrespectful' towards the memory of Turkey's founding father. Similar actions have been taken against Dailymotion and social networks such as Facebook regularly feel threatened by similar attempts to censor their content.
Another leap backwards
In the blogosphere, the picture looks even more bleak: The HCT regularly targets discussion groups and blog providers. Recently, googlegroups, blogger.com and blogspot.com have been banned by the court ruling in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir. Without prior notice, thousands of bloggers suddenty lost access to their online form of expression.
While advocacy groups such as Reporters without Borders demand that only 'sensitive' material should be a matter of dispute, many in Turkey remain stubborn. According to the World Economic Forum, the country ranks 71st among 138 countries in an assessment of their degree of freedom of expression.
For Faruk Eczacibasi this outcome is almost 'miraculous', given that the new internet law can be considered as yet another 'leap backwards'. According to the list of words put forward by the HCT, even the word 'forbidden' will soon be... well, forbidden.