EU leaders tell Turkey: gagging Twitter is unacceptable


European leaders slammed the Turkish government for banning Twitter this morning (21 March). The ban is yet another incident hampering EU-Turkish accession talks, due to the ongoing crackdown on free speech by Ankara. EURACTIV Turkey contributed to this report.

Twitter users in Turkey have reported that the social media platform Twitter is blocked since this morning (21 March), as citizens cannot automatically access their accounts. Users are redirected to a statement, thought to come from Turkey's telecommunications authority.

The block is likely to come be imposed by the Turkish government in order to gag opposition voices in the run-up to the municipal elections on 30 March. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an on Thursday said in a campaign speech that he would “wipe out” Twitter.

Erdogan added: "I don't care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic,” the BBC reports.

European leaders expressed their dismay of the blatant infringement on the freedom of expression: “This is a sad day. It is against democracy. It is against European values. It is not acceptable,” said EU commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes.

 “Blocking social media is unacceptable in a functioning democracy and rule of law. I call on the Turkish Government to address this issue without delay,” added Dutch MEP for the EPP group, Ria Oomen-Ruijten.

Last November, the EU and Turkey reopened their accession negotiations, after a three-year freeze. The negotiations have been running since 2005; freedom of expression is one of the most important stumbling blocks in the talks.

Turkish president still tweeting

Despite this alleged crackdown, twitter users can easily circumvent the ‘ban’ by changing the DNS server details. Several top level politicians, both from the opposition and governmental parties, have used their twitter account today.

Turkish president Abdullah Gül reacted to the ban, notably via his Twitter account, tweeting a series of tweets that read: “Blocking social media platforms entirely is unacceptable. […] If there are criminal instances where privacy is violated, only the relevant pages should be blocked with a court order. I hope this situation does not last long.”

Municipal elections are held due 30 March. Erdo?an is troubled by a grave scandal concerning secret telephone recordings allegedly proving bribery, rigging of tenders and media oppression. The tapes recently appeared on YouTube, which was briefly shut down by the government in response.

In February, the Turkish government strengthened control on the use of internet after the parliament adopted a bill allowing telecom companies to block websites without going through a court ruling procedure.

In a statement, EU enlargement commissioner Štefan Füle, said: "The ban on the social platform in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey's stated commitment to European values and standards.

Freedom of expression, a fundamental right in any democratic society, includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. Citizens must be free to communicate and choose freely the means to do it. This obviously includes access to the internet.

Open debate promotes transparency and accountability and ultimately reinforces democracy; such debate needs to be strengthened everywhere, including in Turkey."

EU commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes said: "I want the people and the Twitterers of Turkey to know we are with them. This is a sad day. It is against democracy. It is against European values. It is not acceptable. Erdogan is going in the wrong direction. It is the opposite of what the Turkey government promised us in my latest discussions with them."

In an interview with CNBC,she added: “This means he is going in a wrong direction, to put it in a very diplomatic way. Never, ever, is this acceptable. It is about the values of our democracy. What we have to do is put it straightforward, in plain language, that it is not acceptable.”

Ria Oomen-Ruijten, MEP for the EPP group and rapporteur on Turkey in the EU Parliament, strongly condemns the ban: "Blocking social media is unacceptable in a functioning democracy and rule of law. I call on the Turkish Government to address this issue without delay. Turkish citizens should be able to express their opinion both offline and online," she said in a statement.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said: "Freedom of expression and information are enshrined in our most basic fundamental rights instruments, be it at EU or at the Council of Europe level. As a Member of the Council of Europe and as an EU candidate country, Turkey is no exception.”

“Gagging the internet, social media and the free press, and politicising magistrates are not good recipes to make Turkey fit for the challenges of the 21st century, and certainly not the good recipes to bring it closer to the European Union,” he said.

Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said: "Turkey, as a country in the process of accession talks to join the European Union, has a duty to respect fundamental human rights. Freedom of speech is a core right of people and Erdo?an's authoritarian oppression of it will not succeed.

"Mr. Erdo?an may not care what the international community thinks about him, but the international community cares about the rights of the Turkish people,” he added.

The EU opened accession talks with Turkey in October 2005, but a number of stumbling blocks are holding up Ankara's progress, in particular concerning Turkey's relations with Cyprus, human and minority rights and freedom of expression.

Prime minister ?Recep Tayyip Erdogan has faced vigourous oppossition due to his crackdown of media freedom and freedom of speech over his past years of leadership. Last summer, protesters occupied the Taksim Gezi Park for several weeks, in what developed into a movement demanding respect for democratic and secular values in the country. 

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