ISTANBUL: A Turkish court on Friday rejected an appeal by the Wikimedia Foundation against the nearly week-long blocking of access in Turkey to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which heightened alarm over freedom of expression in the country.
The first magistrates’ court in Ankara threw out the appeal filed by the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns the domain name for Wikipedia and argued that the block violated freedom of expression, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The ban was imposed Saturday by Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) and had remained in place after being backed up by a court order earlier this week.
Turkish officials have said that the ban was needed as Wikipedia had failed to remove content from its pages that linked Turkey with terror groups, deemed to be false.
But the decision caused an outcry among freedom of information activists who accuse Turkey of slapping bans on websites and social media with alarming regularity.
There had also been questions about why Turkey banned the entire website, in all languages, since its objections reportedly related to only two pages in the English version.
‘Damages Turkey’s credibility’
According to the court ruling published by Anadolu, the pages in question contain claims presenting Turkey as “one of the actors who initiated the civil war in Syria” and also as a state “which supports and arms terror groups”.
Critics have accused Ankara of supporting and even arming Islamist groups in Syria’s six-year civil war but Turkey has rejected such claims.
The court said the claims made on the Wikipedia pages were “damaging to the respectability and credibility of the Turkish state”.
It said access to the entire site — and not just the two contested pages — had been banned because it was not technically possible to block single pages from a website.
BTK head Omer Fatih Sayan said earlier this week that the ban would be lifted only when the judiciary’s decisions were implemented and the pages removed.
‘Fundamental human right’
On Tuesday, municipality officials in Istanbul also removed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales from the guest list of the World Cities Expo, an international conference to be held in the city on May 15-18.
Reacting to the ban on Wikipedia, Wales had said Saturday on Twitter: “Access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people, I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”
Turkey has frequently blocked access to websites temporarily including popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube following terror attacks or anti-government demonstrations.
Savvy internet users frequently employ virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around these bans, though there have been complaints that the use of VPNs has now also started to be blocked.
Opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey since 2003 as premier and now president, argue that freedom of expression has eroded steadily under his rule.
Turkey ranks 155 on the latest world press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders, known by its French initials RSF, below Belarus and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a drop of four places from its 2016 ranking.
The country has been under a state of emergency since the failed July 15 coup aimed at toppling Erdogan, which has seen tens of thousands jailed or dismissed from their jobs.
The court said the right to freedom of expression could be limited under some conditions, arguing that Turkey was not bound by the European Convention on Human Rights under the state of emergency.