Social media activism has become a dangerous business in Turkey. The freedom of expression is currently under attack as online censorship continues to increase. Anyone expressing critical opinions about the government in social media risks facing trial and ending up in prison.
On December 1st, Sebnem Kenis from Community Volunteers Foundation in Turkey visited FUF to talk about the deteriorating condition of the freedom of expression in the country. She witnessed about how Erdogan’s government is trying to control the Internet by blocking webpages, surveilling Internet users, and forbidding content judged inappropriate. This is all made possible by the so called “Law 5651”, enacted in 2007, which, according to Kenis, violates both the Turkish constitution and international agreements. In terms of number of blocked sites, Turkey is to be compared with countries such as China, North Korea and Iran. Public authorities are able to monitor and surveil citizens while enjoying impunity and without any obligations of transparency. Moreover, a number of journalists and activists have arbitrarily been arrested on ambiguous grounds, such as having “insulted” the president or other officials. Oppositional Kurds, leftists and LGBTI activists are especially targeted by these measures.
According to Sebnem Kenis, the legal framework for Internet usage in Turkey is strategically designed to protect the state rather than its citizens. Kenis further says that the underlying objective of the government’s restrictive Internet policy is to impose its own conservative, nationalist and religious agenda on the Turkish general public and punish those who do not comply with it. However, this development has been met by heavy criticism and opposition from the civil society. Several demonstrations have taken place and Internet users are constantly finding new creative ways to circumvent the government’s regulations. Sebnem Kenis calls for the abolishment of law 5651 as well as the development of a new Internet policy guaranteeing that the freedom of expression is respected.