December 18, 2012 | By Adi Kamdar

European Human Rights Court Finds Turkey in Violation of Freedom of Expression

The European Court of Human Rights decided today that, unsurprisingly, Turkey had violated their citizens' right to freedom of expression by blocking Google Sites, sites.google.com.

Turkish law prohibits any insult towards Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the nation, as well as any general insult towards "Turkishness." This form of censorship has led, as one might expect, to some examples of egregious government overreach.

In 2009, a criminal court in Turkey issued an order to block a website that allegedly insulted Atatürk. The Turkish Telecommunications and Electronic Data Authority carried out the order by—wait for it—blocking sites.google.com in its entirety.

Along came Ahmet Yıldırım, who used Google Sites to publish a personal blog and host academic papers. And then—because of a case that had nothing to do with Yıldırım—his website was rendered dark in Turkey. So in January 2010, he took the case to the European Court, claiming that Turkey had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to freedom of expression.

The European Court of Human Rights found that Turkish law did not allow for "wholesale blocking of access" to a host like Google Sites, and Google Sites had not even been informed that it was hosting "illegal" content in the first place.

Turkey has a sordid history of Internet censorship. This includes the banning of YouTube for a majority of time since March 2007. The ban was finally lifted a few years later when YouTube agreed to take down certain videos that ran counter to Turkish law, and just a few months ago, YouTube was relaunched in the country under a Turkish domain. This effectively has given the government more say over what content is permissible on the site. Last year, there was also the launch of a voluntary filtering system in the country, which incited a number of protests.

We hope Turkey heeds the European Court's decision and unblocks Google Sites. The Court was very clear that censorship of any kind requires deep thought, foresight, and a strict legal framework. And while we do not condone censorship of any kind, it is obvious that Turkey's actions went well beyond the Human Rights Convention's guidelines and directly abused its people's right to freedom of expression.


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