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Twitter sues Turkey as ban persists despite court ruling

A board shows the alternative ways to access Twitter, is placed at an election campaign office of the main opposition Republican's People's Party (CHP) in Istanbul March 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

ANKARA: A successful appeal against Turkey’s ban on Twitter may not be enough to restore free access to the service before critical local polls are held this weekend.

An Ankara court upheld an appeal against the ban from the bar association Wednesday, ruling that it contravened the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights, but a source in Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said the national telecoms authority had 30 days to implement or appeal the decision.

Erdogan fears that the coming vote could be influenced by a string of recordings released through the microblogging site that allegedly implicate him in corruption.

Despite a separate court challenge by Twitter describing the blocking order as “disproportionate and illegal,” the potential delay could mean that the ban, which is viewed by many as an attempt to impede the widely expected release of further tapes, remains in place until after the polls.

Sunday’s polls have assumed huge significance as a test for Erdogan as he fights graft accusations that he says were fabricated by a former ally, U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Recent weeks have seen the almost daily anonymous online release of the recorded telephone conversations, which the prime minister dismisses as “montages.”

Turkey’s telecoms authority (TIB) blocked access to Twitter on Friday after Erdogan said he would “root out” the network.

The move provoked public outrage and drew international condemnation, with Erdogan’s critics seeing it as the latest in a series of authoritarian steps to crush the graft scandal, which has grown into the biggest challenge of his 11-year rule.

Many Turks found workarounds, with Internet analysts reporting a surge in tweets since the ban was imposed, but the issue has become a tug-of-war between Erdogan’s administration and the San Francisco-based microblogging site.

Twitter said it had suspended content related to two of three court orders listed as the legal basis for the ban, claiming the content violated its own rules. But it is challenging a third order to remove an account accusing an ex-minister of graft.

“With all announced bases for the access ban addressed, there are no legal grounds for the blocking of our service in Turkey,” it said in an official blog posting.

“We expect the government to restore access to Twitter immediately so that its citizens can continue an open online dialogue ahead of the elections,” the statement said.

Twitter’s legal challenge was also expected to be delayed by Turkish court procedures.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, seen as a more conciliatory figure at the top of the ruling AK Party than Erdogan, urged the telecoms authority to respect the Ankara court’s decision.

“We abide by the court rulings; that’s what the constitution orders. We may not like them, but we abide by them,” Arinc told reporters in Hatay.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2014, on page 9.

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Summary

A successful appeal against Turkey's ban on Twitter may not be enough to restore free access to the service before critical local polls are held this weekend.

An Ankara court upheld an appeal against the ban from the bar association Wednesday, ruling that it contravened the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights, but a source in Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said the national telecoms authority had 30 days to implement or appeal the decision.

Despite a separate court challenge by Twitter describing the blocking order as "disproportionate and illegal," the potential delay could mean that the ban, which is viewed by many as an attempt to impede the widely expected release of further tapes, remains in place until after the polls.

Twitter said it had suspended content related to two of three court orders listed as the legal basis for the ban, claiming the content violated its own rules.


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