Mohamed Nanabhay
Mohamed Nanabhay

Turkey, WordPress and a little bit of honesty, please

Last week, a Turkish court issued an order to block WordPress.com in Turkey. Yes, the whole of WordPress.com, which hosts more than a million blogs.

The blocking of is a result of a defamation claim brought by Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya), who claims that a few blogs hosted by WordPress.com slandered both him and his friends.

Now let’s be clear — this wholesale censorship of WordPress.com is deplorable and was caused by either a bad ruling or just a badly worded ruling. Either way, it has a chilling effect on free speech far beyond this particular defamation case (the merits of which are a different story altogether).

Unfortunately some people have used this block to insinuate opportunistically that this type of censorship was related to the AK Party’s overwhelming victory earlier this month and that “Islamists” had come into power. Ali Eteraz was quick to write: “Is this the first sign of Islamist censorship in the secular state?”

These alarmist and irresponsible attempts to link a decision taken by a court to the AK Party’s overwhelming victory are baseless since:

  • the Turkish Constitution “guarantees judicial independence and prohibits any government agency or individual from interfering with the operations of the courts and judges”;
  • Turkey hasn’t even elected the president yet, let alone made any changes to the judiciary; and
  • the republic already had draconian censorship laws before the AK Party victory.

Remember, we are talking about a country where it is illegal to insult the founder, flag or even wear a headscarf in a government building or university. Earlier this year, the whole of YouTube was blocked because a few Greeks posted a video that made fun of Turkey, their flag and their founding father, Kemal Atatürk. At the time many were quick to blame the block on “Muslims”, which made absolutely no sense as the video attacked Kemal Atatürk who is the “father” of Turkish secularism.

That block was a result of Turkey’s widely known and criticised censorship law (article 301) that makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness”. In fact, it was Abdullah Gul, the AK Party’s proposed presidential candidate, who stated earlier this year that “there are certain problems with article 301. We see now that there are changes which must be made to this law.”

The AK Party is on the verge of arguably the most seminal moment in Turkish history since the modern republic was founded. It would be quite a stretch to think that parliamentarians are concerned with the bickering of Harun Yahya and his foes while trying to get Gul elected.

In fact, they are probably more worried about the military who earlier indicated that they may interfere with the democratic process to defend democracy (which they have done on three previous occasions). European Union MP Andrew Duff commented on this, saying:

“I am very concerned at the tone and timing of these remarks [by the Turkish military] which suggest a threat to the democratic legitimacy of the country. I hope that they are nothing more than a personal view and do not represent a signal that the military would be prepared to set aside the democratic process in Turkey.”

At this point we can clearly identify three methods that have been used to stifle free speech:

  1. the threat by the military, which may undermine the democratic process;
  2. the draconian article 301, which was passed to protect “Turkishness” and is often used against dissidents; and
  3. defamation laws that are ruled upon by a court of law (and has unfortunately resulted in the wholesale blockage of unrelated blogs)

Lets hope that the court realises the mistake and unblocks WordPress.com.

At the same time, let’s be honest about where the real threat to free speech and democracy in Turkey lies …