Censorship in Turkey

From SI410
Jump to: navigation, search
Protesters picketing against internet censorship in Turkey.

Censorship in Turkey is prominent within the country and has been becoming more prominent within the last decade. The censorship within the country has made Turkey rank as a country with one of the highest rates of journalist imprisonments in the world [1]. Tight control on the press and limiting their freedom of speech is one method in which the government controls the flow of information within the country [1]. The government does not exclusively censor the press, but has reportedly censored art, films, movies, theater productions, books, as well as content on the internet.

Regulation regarding journalists and free speech is some of the strictest in the world. Regulation includes restrictions on travel for journalists and their families, restrictions on publishing content, and strict punishments for journalists who break those laws. Turkish censorship is the result of domestic and international legislation, which gives complete legal precedence to the government for regulating speech on all platforms and mediums. According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom, 81 journalists are currently in jail, 94 are arrested, and 167 are wanted within Turkey [2]. As of December 2020, 274 journalists are jailed worldwide, which means that Turkey is currently imprisoning just under 1/3 of all journalists worldwide [3].


The concept of censorship in Turkey dates back to the 1920’s and has played an important role throughout its history. The first notable instance can be traced back to the Atatürk era [4], during which the Republic of Turkey banned the distribution of Islamic material in movies in an effort to modernize Turkey. More recent and notable instances of censorship include the 1980 Turkish Coup d’état, the Gezi Park protests, the Covid-19 Pandemic, and the Bogazici University Protests.

Historically, the word censorship has been used to describe instances in which publication, distribution and expression of resources and ideas are suppressed or prohibited in order to preserve national security and assert power and authority over people. In order to make the notion of censorship less ambiguous, Chuck Stone, Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, came up with an alternative definition for censorship: "The cyclical suppression, banning, expurgation, or editing by an individual, institution, group or government that enforces or influences its decision against members of the public of any written or pictorial materials which that individual, institution, group or government deems obscene and 'utterly without redeeming social value' as determined by 'contemporary community standards [5] .'" As digital transformation and social media platforms took a greater role in the communication and exchange of ideas in today’s world, censorship in Turkey also became centralized around digital, emerging technologies with the purpose of controlling what is being published, spread, and accessed. Beginning in 1994, Turkish government started utilizing different actors, including RTÜK (Radio and Television Supreme Council), Pool Media (Partisan Media), and government sponsored AK Trolls. While most of these alleged interventions and examples are documented, the Turkish government publicly denies any involvement in such instances and calls these documents forged [6].

RTÜK, Pool Media and AK Trolls


RTÜK, also known as the Radio and Television Supreme Council, is responsible for closely monitoring, regulating, and intervening (when necessary) with radio and television broadcast published and distributed to Turkish people through various channels. As the members of the board are appointed by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, politics is often viewed as a driver in implementing policies. Their most notable sanctions include the ban on TV Series Gossip Girl, Cukur (The Pit), and Sex and the City 2. When asked for the reasoning behind these bans, RTÜK responded by saying the content presented in these works imply and support "the violation the national and moral values of the community and Turkish family structure" and the impairment of the physical, mental, and moral development of young people and children"

Pool Media

Unlike RTÜK, Pool Media is an unofficial word incorporated in Turkish slang by those who oppose the incumbent administration. The term “Pool Media’ refers to media corporations and organizations that are often used to control the material that is being circulated on news, the internet, or newspapers. Since the term was coined by the opposition, it is often used to criticize media ignorance, as well as their implementation of censorship to block information access.

Media outlets that are not considered “pool media” are still subject to intense pressure and regulation by the government. The largest media outlets in Turkey are typically part of larger corporate conglomerates, and thus have financial incentive to self-censor in order to avoid retaliation against the outlet or any of the other businesses [7]. 65% of newspapers sold in Turkey are from non-pool media outlets, and each of those papers practice self-censorship. It is common for the government to use intimidation tactics to force journalists to align with the government’s agenda. If an outlet refuses to align, then it has been documented that arbitrary taxes are placed on the outlet until they become bankrupt.

AK Trolls

AK Trolls are a group of people deployed by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) in order to control what information is being circulated in the media, as well as how a particular issue is analyzed. During the summer of 2020, Twitter announced that it would archive 7340 accounts that were managed by AK Trolls to promote the political agenda of the AKP [8].

Gezi Park Protests and Censorship

Protesters in Taksim Square during the Gezi Park Protests of 2013 [9].

The Gezi Park Protests were organized demonstrations aimed to prevent the ruling administration from moving forward with their plans of pedestrianizing Gezi Park—one of the few green spaces in the Europe side of Turkey. What initially began as a protest for the conservation of green spaces soon turned into a mass gathering of thousands protesting the Erdogan Regime. Social media played a significant role as details of these protests (as well as the coordination of the protests) was handled through social media. There are reports suggesting that the Turkish government cut the 3G access of Turkish people in order to prevent them from accessing this info. On June 12, Ibrahim Kalin, adviser to the President, had an on-air interview with Christiane Amanpour of CNN International and reiterated the notion that the claims suggesting that the government caused the censorship were forged and that the protests were unlawful. Christiane Amanpour cut the interview abruptly after Kalin denied these claims [10]. In addition, two different pro-government Turkish media outlets televised a documentary about penguins and a show about Turkish cuisine while these protests were happening.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Turkey reported its first Covid-19 case on March 9th, 2020. During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Fahrettin Koca, Minister of Health of Turkey, as well as other members of the cabinet, were criticized for hiding the number of daily cases that Turkey had. The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) responded to Erdogan by asserting that the numbers they gathered did not match official figures [11]. Various instances documented by media outlets indicate that the Erdogan administration denied allegations of falsifying numbers. In order to deal with the spread of “misinformation," Erdogan called law-enforcement to take action based on social media activity (Twitter, YouTube, Instagram). There aren’t, however, any documented arrests to this date. As of November 2020, Turkish government admitted to excluding the number of asymptomatic cases in their counts and decided to label these patients as a separate group [12].

Turkish Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca, during a press conference [13].

Mandatory Offices for Technology Companies

On July 29, 2020, Turkish lawmakers passed a new legislation that forces social media companies like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix to set up offices in Turkey, thereby laying the groundwork for Turkish lawmakers to hold these companies accountable for the information circulating on their platforms. This legislation gathered international attention, as prominent media agencies like The New York Times [14], Reuters [15] and Arab News reported the legislation in their newspapers. In addition, Onursal Adigüzel, former vice-president of the Republican People's Party, stated that since having local offices put these companies under Turkish jurisdiction, this legislation created a legal framework for monitoring social media activity directly [16]. However, Erdogan administration ensured the Turkish people that they have no direct access to these platforms and can only access through a court order.

Turkish Penal Code and Articles of Censorship

Article 301

Article 301 is a provision in the Turkish penal code that, since 2005 made it a punishable offense to insult "Turkishness" or various official Turkish institutions. Charges were filed in more than 60 cases, some of which were high-profile[17]. The article was amended in 2008, including changing "Turkishness" into "the Turkish nation", reducing maximum prison terms to 2 years, and making it obligatory to get the approval of the Minister of Justice before filing a case. Changes were deemed "largely cosmetic" by Freedom House, although the number of prosecutions dropped[18]. Although only a few people were convicted, trials under Article 301 are seen by human rights watchdogs as a punitive measure in themselves because of how time-consuming and expensive they are. Such factors are a cause of concern for free speech.

Article 312

Article 312 of the criminal code imposes three-year prison sentences for incitement to commit an offence and incitement to religious or racial hatred [19]. In 1999 the mayor of Istanbul and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment under Article 312 for reading a few lines from a poem that had been authorized by the Ministry of Education for use in schools, and consequently had to resign. In 2000 the chairman of the Human Rights Association, Akin Birdal, was imprisoned under Article 312 for a speech in which he called for "peace and understanding" between Kurds and Turks, and thereafter forced to resign, as the Law on Associations forbids persons who breach this and several other laws from serving as association officials[20]. On February 6, 2002, a "mini-democracy package" was voted by Parliament, altering wording of Art. 312[21]. Under the revised text, incitement can only be punished if it presents "a possible threat to public order." The package also reduced the prison sentences for Article 159 of the criminal code from a maximum of six years to three years. None of the other laws had been amended or repealed as of 2002.

Internet Law No. 5651 & Legal Framework for Censorship

Turkey adopted Internet Law No. 5651 in 2007. The law's declared objective was to protect families and minors, but its enactment and usage has been viewed as controversial by some. The law was enacted following a ban on the popular internet platform Youtube. The ban, which occurred in response to anti-Turkish videos, paved Turkey's path to heightened censorship. Since its inception, the law has been enforced in a restrictive fashion with frequent incidents of censorship against citizens, journalists, and media outlets. Law No. 5651 prohibits crimes against Atatürk, offering or promoting prostitution, providing place and opportunity for gambling, unauthorized online gambling and betting, sexual abuse of children, encouraging suicide, supplying drugs that are dangerous for health, and the facilitation of the abuse of drugs. The law also blocks websites for the following reasons: downloading of MP3 and movies in violation of copyright laws, insults against state organizations and private persons, crimes related to terrorism, violation of trademark regulations, unfair trade regulated under the Turkish Commercial Code, and the violation of Articles 24, 25, 26, and 28 of the Constitution (Freedom of religion, expression, thought, and press).

On July 29, 2020, Turkey’s parliament passed a bill amending Law No. 5651 on Regulating Internet Publications and Combating Crimes Committed by means of such publications. The new law requires that foreign social network service providers whose services are accessed from Turkey more than 1 million times a day appoint a permanent representative in Turkey and take measures to store the data of users located in Turkey within the territory of the country [22].

In February 2014, Turkish authorities adopted another controversial bill that amended the country's internet regulations. The bill allowed for the Telecommunications Authority (TIB) to block any website within 4 hours without first seeking a court ruling, and requires internet providers to store all data on web users' activities for two years and to make it available to the authorities upon request [23]. National security was the largest reason for the amendment on broad access bans [24]. According to the amendment, decisions to block a website can be appealed, but only after a site has been blocked. Because of the public profile of the major websites banned and the lack of juridical, technical, or ethical arguments to justify the censorship, the blocked sites are often still available using proxies or by changing DNS servers [25]. According to Özgür Uçkan, a professor at the communications department of Istanbul's Bilgi University and member of the Alternative Informatics Association, "The internet law is catastrophic for Turkey." Uckan also says that "The law will turn the TIB into an NSA-like body. What is more is that any bureaucrat can now decide to take down a certain website without having to apply for a court order, but you will need to take that decision to court in order to get it reversed." [26]. Although these concerns voiced by Özgür Uçar are becoming more popular, it is unclear what and how Erdoğan will respond to these concerns.


Censorship in Turkey has been justified by the government in several ways. Some of these ways include using advertisements, press statements, and tweets that push the positive impact censorship supposedly brings. In order to justify the government's censorship of the internet, pro-government newspapers have pushed the idea that censorship helps protect children from dangerous websites [27]. Furthermore, violence against women has been used to suggest the need for censorship of the internet [27]. Opponents against internet censorship point out the country's failure to protect children and women in real life, questioning the government's real motives and competence. Censorship has also been justified by those in power as a means to protect public order and strengthen national security [28]. Such justification has been used to support the banning of popular websites. One of the most notorious and largest websites banned by the government is Wikipedia. Wikipedia, like the vast majority of banned websites, has painted the Turkish government in a bad light. For instance, one Wikipedia entry seemed to suggest that the president's son-in-law had a business relationship with ISIS, while another labeled Turkey's founding father as a "benevolent dictator [28]."

With regards to recent regulations, Turkey has continuously passed laws strengthening its strict country-wide censorship. Social media regulations have been justified as necessary to fight cybercrime and to ensure the protection of users [29]. On the other hand, critics of these governmental regulations view them as an immediate threat to freedom of expression in the country. Internet broadcasters have also been on the receiving end of regulations by the Turkish government, which has recently added internet broadcasting under its control [30]. In particular, broadcasters must now abide by the same rules [30]. Regulations of broadcasters on the internet have been justified by the government as essential for promoting the harmonization of broadcasting [30]. Opponents of such regulations appear to perceive them as just another case of the government strengthening its tight internet control.

Ethical Implications

The ethical implications related to the issue of censorship in Turkey have been brought to attention by the misalignment of ideals and views between Turkey and Cross-Border actors, including Turkey’s neighbors. One of the instances where this misalignment, as well as its ethical implications, were visible was during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Some nations and political organizations, including UK, EU and USA, issued travel restrictions to Turkey during Covid-19, due to the fact that unlike government data, their data showed Turkey to be a “Hot Zone” [31]. Erdogan administration responded to these concerns by implementing a travel ban back. While Covid-19 is one example that displays the importance of ethical implications, the answer to the bigger question of how to handle ethical problems that transcend border lines remains unclear.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Benhabib, Seyla. [1] The Washington Post." 16 March 2017. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  2. Stockholm Center for Freedom. [2] Stockholm Center for Freedom ." 8 January 2021. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  3. Committee to Protect Journalists. [3] Committee to Protect Journalists." 15 December 2020. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  4. Luleci, Y. (2018). Erken Cumhuriyet Döneminde Atatürk ve CHP’nin Sinema Öz Politikası*. Retrieved from https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/609815
  5. Stone, C. (n.d.). Defining censorship. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://media.okstate.edu/faculty/jsenat/censorship/defining.htm
  6. AKP'li Ünal AKTROLL ordusunu reddetti: Alakamız yok. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.yurtgazetesi.com.tr/guncel/akpli-unal-aktroll-ordusunu-reddetti-alakamiz-yok-h161945.html
  7. Corke, Susan et al. [4] Freedom House." 3 February 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  8. Disclosing networks of state-linked information operations we've removed. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/information-operations-june-2020.html
  9. Gezi Park PROTESTS. June 5, 2016, Istanbul. a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in turkey began on 28 May 2013, initially to contest the urban development plan For Istanbul's TAKSIM Gezi Park. (2016, June 5). Retrieved March 26, 2021, from https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/gezi-park-protests.html
  10. 'Shame on YOU,' Amanpour reacts to Turkish daily that published fake interview - Turkey news. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/shame-on-you-amanpour-reacts-to-turkish-daily-that-published-fake-interview-49022
  11. Kucukgocmen, A., & Erkoyun, E. (2020, October 01). Doctors group says TURKEY 'hid the TRUTH' by reporting only those With COVID-19 SYMPTOMS. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-turkey/doctors-group-says-turkey-hid-the-truth-by-reporting-only-those-with-covid-19-symptoms-idUSKBN26M71J
  12. Turkey announces Asymptomatic coronavirus case numbers for first time since July. (2020, November 25). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-turkey-cases/turkey-announces-asymptomatic-coronavirus-case-numbers-for-first-time-since-july-idUSKBN2852W3
  13. Koronavirüs - Sağlık Bakanı KOCA, Vaka ve ölüm sayılarıyla ilgili iddialara yanıt verdi: Birinin ÖLÜMÜNÜ SAKLAMAYA imkan yok, 2020 yılındayız - BBC News Türkçe. (2020, September 30). Retrieved March 26, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-54361989
  14. Santora, M. (2020, July 29). Turkey passes law Extending sweeping powers over social media. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/29/world/europe/turkey-social-media-control.html
  15. Turkey moves to oversee all online CONTENT, raises concerns over censorship. (2019, August 01). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-internet-censorship/turkey-moves-to-oversee-all-online-content-raises-concerns-over-censorship-idUSKCN1UR539
  16. Gundogan, B. (2020). CHP Genel Başkan Yardımcısı ADIGÜZEL'DEN sosyal Medya DÜZENLEMESI AÇIKLAMASI. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/politika/chp-genel-baskan-yardimcisi-adiguzelden-sosyal-medya-duzenlemesi-aciklamasi/1920071
  17. Lea, Richard. In Istanbul, a writer awaits her day in court, The Guardian, July 24, 2006.
  18. Algan, Bulent. The Brand New Version of Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code and the Future of Freedom of Expression Cases in Turkey, Cambridge, March 6, 2019.
  19. Human Rights News. [5] Questions and Answers: Freedom of Expression and Language Rights in Turkey ." 2 April 2002. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  20. UNHCR. [6] Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Turkey." 1 December 2000. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  21. Human Rights News. [7] Questions and Answers: Freedom of Expression and Language Rights in Turkey ." 2 April 2002. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  22. (2020, Aug 6). Turkey: Parliament Passes Law Imposing New Obligations on Social Media Companies. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/turkey-parliament-passes-law-imposing-new-obligations-on-social-media-companies/
  23. (2014, Feb 6). Turkey pushes through new raft of 'draconian' internet restrictions. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/06/turkey-internet-law-censorship-democracy-threat-opposition
  24. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.internationallawoffice.com/Account/Login.aspx?ReturnUrl=http%3a%2f%2fwww.internationallawoffice.com%2fNewsletters%2fIT-Internet%2fTurkey%2fELIG-Attorneys-at-Law%2fNational-security-as-legal-basis-for-broad-access-bans
  25. (2013, June 6). Turkey Legislation. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://wilmap.law.stanford.edu/entries/omnibus-bill-no-524-first-introduced-june-26-2013-amending-provisions-various-laws-and
  26. (2014, Feb 6). Turkey pushes through new raft of 'draconian' internet restrictions. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/06/turkey-internet-law-censorship-democracy-threat-opposition
  27. 27.0 27.1 E. (2020, August 21). The Turkish Government is trying to justify internet censorship. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from https://edri.org/our-work/turkish-govt-strong-net-censorship/
  28. 28.0 28.1 Hansen, S. (2019, November 13). Finding Truth Online Is Hard Enough. Censors Make It a Labyrinth. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/13/magazine/internet-turkey.html
  29. Bilginsoy, Z. (2020, July 29). Turkey: Social media law's passage raises censorship worries. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from https://apnews.com/article/turkey-istanbul-international-news-legislation-social-media-9abc40bdd22f6c8df763bad0b4c55924
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Jones, D. (2019, October 8). Turkey's New Internet Regulations Spark Fears of New Wave of Censorship. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/turkeys-new-internet-regulations-spark-fears-new-wave-censorship
  31. Ledsom, A. (2021, March 10). February EU travel restrictions by Country: Quarantine, Covid-19 tests and vaccination passports. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexledsom/2021/02/19/february-eu-travel-restrictions-by-country-quarantine-covid-19-tests-and-vaccination-passports/?sh=6d9aa08e5ec6