Twitter Says Turkey Wanted An Account Deleted For Political Speech

Demonstrators hold a banner that reads “we resist against bans” as they protest against Internet restrictions in Istanbul. Feb. 2014. CREDIT: AP
Demonstrators hold a banner that reads “we resist against bans” as they protest against Internet restrictions in Istanbul. Feb. 2014. CREDIT: AP

Twitter said in a statement on Wednesday that the Turkish government had asked it to delete the account of a user that accused a former official of corruption, a request that the social media network refused to comply with. That decision, it appears, resulted in the Turkish communications governing authority banning access to Twitter last week.

A Turkish court ruled against the ban on Wednesday and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said his government will respect the court’s decision. “We will implement the court’s decision. We might not like the court decision, but we will carry it out,” he said.

The statement from Twitter — which announced that it filed petitions for lawsuits in various Turkish courts challenging the ban — revealed details of the court orders Turkish officials said Twitter refused to comply with.

“The purported legal basis for the ban is three court orders (none of which were provided to us prior to the ban),” the statement, written by General Counsel Vijaya Gadde, says. It continues:

Two of the three court orders relate to content that violated our own Rules and is already suspended. The last order instructed us to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption. This order causes us concern. Political speech is among the most important speech, especially when it concerns possible government corruption. That’s why today we have also petitioned the Turkish court on behalf of our users to reverse this order.

Gadde said Twitter has temporarily suspended the account — which Hurriyet reported is @oyyokhirsiza (no votes to thieves) — while Twitter contests the court order. “[W]e are using our Country Withheld Content tool on the account in question, the first time we’ve used it in Turkey, as well as on several Tweets based on the public prosecutor’s request regarding the safety of an individual,” Gadde said. “The tool allows content to be withheld in a specific jurisdiction while remaining visible to the rest of the world. We have already provided notice of this action to the affected users, and are posting all information we’re legally able to disclose about the withholdings to Chilling Effects.”

Turkish officials claim they banned Twitter because Turks can’t handle pornographic photos, insults and swearing that they say takes place on the social media network.

Experts have said that this justification for the ban played into one of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s goals, which was to discredit the social media platform as a source of legitimate news after numerous Twitter users in Turkey tweeted audio recordings purporting to show government officials there — including Erdogan — engaging in corrupt activities.

But the statement from Twitter on Wednesday confirms another motivation: censorship of political speech and repression of press freedom, an ongoing issue that expert observers have said has reached a “crisis point.”