The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) on Thursday blocked access to popular video sharing platform YouTube hours after a leaked voice recording, allegedly featuring the voices of Turkey's foreign minister, intelligence chief and a top army general discussing developments in neighboring war-torn Syria, was uploaded onto the site.
In the recording, the alleged voices of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler can be heard discussing a possible intervention in Syria and potential world responses.
The bar association is seeking an injunction on the YouTube ban. In the petition, the association said that TİB did not have the authority to block sites and had acted in violation of Law No. 5651, which concerns Internet regulations in Turkey. TİB can only block access to sites without a court order in cases of violations to the secrecy of private lives, and even in those cases it can only block access to the direct page a problematic video is on, the association said.
Domestic and international figures and agencies have reacted to the recently introduced ban on YouTube, which came about a week after a ban on Twitter.
An Ankara court earlier this week issued a temporary injunction ordering TİB to restore access to Twitter, but the authority has not done so yet. The body has 30 days to implement the court decision.
There have also been rumors that the government is planning to shut down Facebook, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has several times hinted at a ban on that site as well.
Reuters, citing an unnamed source in a report on Friday, said that Turkey was having talks with YouTube and it would remove the ban if the audio leak on Syria is deleted.
International media covered the ban extensively. The British Embassy in Turkey noted in a tweet that the UK “is concerned by [the] Turkish Governments [sic] decision to place a blanket ban on access from Turkey to YouTube.”
Turkey's YouTube ban is a crude attempt at government censorship, said the UK branch of Amnesty International.
The Turkish government's decision to ban YouTube by administrative order is a disastrous move for freedom of expression and the right to access information in Turkey, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
By blocking access to social media platforms Turkey deliberately disregards the fundamental right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on Freedom of the Media said on Friday.
“Within one week, access to Twitter and YouTube has been blocked in Turkey,” Mijatović said. “A regulator exercising censorship by blocking is unacceptable in democracies, and it breaches numerous OSCE and other international standards that Turkey has committed to.”
At home, the Turkish Press Council also reacted harshly to the ban. Its president, Pınar Türenç, said in a statement on Friday: “We will not give up demanding the universal standards of democracy, especially the freedom of press and expression, in spite of all obstructions. We would like to remind everyone once again that we will not bow before assaults and threats.”
Türenç said anti-democratic attempts from the government to limit press freedoms such as the bans on Twitter and YouTube, shutting down newspapers and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) handing out monetary fines and broadcast suspensions against television networks have made their mark on the March 30 local elections. She said these efforts have been etched into the dark pages of Turkey's press history.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said on Friday that the leaked voice recording of the top-secret Foreign Ministry meeting appeared to be the work of the Syrian regime or opposition groups against it. “If this recording is true, and it appears to be so to a major extent, only Syria can benefit from it being put into circulation. The regime will benefit; al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] will benefit from this,” Arınç said. He added that monitoring conversations is an extremely complicated affair and that the recording of the conversation and it is being posted on YouTube is treason. He said he doesn't know who is behind the recording -- which country or which intelligence agency might be responsible.
He said that he, as the deputy prime minister responsible for RTÜK, had ordered a broadcast ban on stories about the recording based on Article 7 of RTÜK Law, which allows temporary broadcast bans in situations that directly threaten national security.
In response to a question on whether the government was planning to shut down Facebook, Arınç said there was no such plan to his knowledge. “However, wiretapping is a problem all over the world. The lines of [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy were also wiretapped. We need to fight this as much as they do. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter should abide by court rulings," he said. He reiterated the government's position that these companies obeyed court rulings in Western countries, but have ignored the Turkish courts.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Ahmet Kenan Tanrıkulu also spoke about the YouTube ban. He said he suspected that one reason behind it has to do with earlier recordings that were posted on the site -- and announced via Twitter -- that allegedly serve as proof of graft allegations that were made against the government.
Speaking about the latest leak, he said it is very difficult to monitor and record the conversations of such a top-level meeting and that Foreign Ministry rooms are protected against bugging. He said it was odd that the government was blaming a certain segment, namely the Hizmet movement, in a room where four people were present at the time of the recording. “If you think logically, you [can] infer that the recordings were leaked by one of the four people present,” he said.
He also stated that it was unfair that the recordings were still accessible to people everywhere in the world but not to the people in Turkey.
Head of the Aegean Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (ESİAD) Bülent Akgerman also released a statement saying that the blockage of YouTube after Twitter is a worrisome development in terms of democracy and constitutional freedoms. He said the development was as worrisome as the leaks that led to the blockages.
In a statement on the recent bans, Kemal Burkay, head of the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR), said on Friday that social media can be abused, but asserted that instead of blocking access to sites, other measures such as prevention of insults or disinformation through monitoring should be taken. He said the government has at its disposal many television networks, but social media remains the sole means of expression for millions of people.