Turkish court reverses decision but YouTube ban stays in place

April 06, 2014, Sunday/ 17:11:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN / İstanbul

A recent ban on Twitter was reversed after a Constitutional Court ruling on April 2 to lift the block on the website, but access to video-sharing website YouTube remains blocked even after the court that initially ordered the ban reversed its ruling.

The Gölbaşı Criminal Court of Peace blocked nationwide access to YouTube via a ruling on March 27, but reversed its ruling on April 4 following an appeal.

Turkey banned access to YouTube after a leaked meeting between top security officials made its way to the video-sharing website. The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) cited a March 27 ruling from the Gölbaşı Criminal Court of Peace.

Following a Constitutional Court ruling on Thursday that blocking access to Twitter is a violation of free speech, the Gölbaşı court on Friday changed its ruling, this time ordering only blocking access to 15 videos on YouTube instead of the entire site. The court offered a self-criticism in its latest ruling, saying its earlier ruling was a “major intervention into freedom of speech, a fundamental value of a democratic society.”

The court notified both the TİB and the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK), which should have lifted the ban, but didn't.

However, the Gölbaşı Prosecutor's Office challenged the liberal ruling on the grounds that the video that was the subject of the YouTube ban had not yet been removed. The Gölbaşı Criminal Court of First Instance, a higher court, ruled to keep the block in place until the “criminal content” is removed form the site.

In the recording that reportedly caused the ban on YouTube, 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 responses from the international community.

The appeal against the Gölbaşı court's initial ruling was filed by the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) following the Constitutional Court's Thursday ruling on Twitter.

It said the earlier ruling had violated users' right to freedom of information and was in violation of Article 13 of the Constitution on the protection of rights and freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Gölbaşı court, however, said the 15 links on YouTube should remain blocked. It based its newest ruling on the Constitutional Court decision.

The EU and the US have reacted strongly to Turkey's recent social media censorship. The White House has issued several statements between the initial block of Twitter and the latest ban on YouTube. In its latest comment, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf on Friday welcomed the recent Constitutional Court decision to lift the blockage of Twitter, but urged the government to unblock YouTube as well.

“Well, obviously, we welcome the recent Constitutional Court decision in support of freedom of expression in Turkey. We also note that the Turkish government implemented the ruling yesterday to unblock Twitter, also following an Ankara court's decision that the government should unblock access to YouTube. Obviously continue to urge the government to open all social media space in Turkey,” Harf said.

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