The so-called “moderate” Islamist government of Turkey, led by Prime Minister Erdogan, exhibited its undemocratic tendencies again, this time by blocking Twitter. The move came after Erdogan vowed to “wipe out” the social media network that is used by 10 million Turks.
The restriction on free speech and flow of information fulfilled a pledge Erdogan made a day earlier. Twitter refused Erdogan’s demands to censor certain links, so the Turkish government got permission from a court to stop the population from using the website.
“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” he declared.
He also recently threatened to ban Facebook and YouTube.
In its official blog, the U.S. State Department called the censorship “21st Century book-burning.” Chiding Erdogan, the blog argued, “[Censorship] doesn’t make anyone stronger. This brand of suppression affects all of us: In an era in which the Internet serves as the world’s community forum, censorship anywhere is a threat to freedom of speech everywhere.”
Yet in an indication of the soft-balled response we can expect from the U.S., the blog continued in a conciliatory tone, saying, “Sometimes even our friends make this mistake,” and confessed that, “The United States’ history on freedom of expression has …slipped at times.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tweeted: “The freedom to speak out and to connect is a fundamental right. The people of Turkey deserve that right restored.” Britain, Germany, Canada and a number of other nations all voiced their objections to the censorship.
Since the court order went into effect, when Turks try to access Twitter, a message pops up from the Turkish official that oversees telecommunication.
The censoring of Twitter prompted immediate outcry. Millions of tweets were sent within the first three hours of the blockage, surprisingly including one from Turkey’s President Gul, who managed to get around the ban and tweeted, “One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media platforms.”
Gul also publicly dismissed Erdogan’s claims that he is the victim of a foreign conspiracy.
Gul is not the savior of free speech in Turkey, though. In February, he signed the bill that empowered the government to block websites and IP addresses in the name of criminal justice. He offered a pitiful defense of himself by saying he didn’t agree with the bill he signed and would support corrective legislation in the future.
Turkey’s internet users have been subjected to internet bans previously and have become technologically savvy in getting around them by learning to change their computers’ Domain Name Settings (DNS) or using various Virtual Private Network applications on their smart phones.
This time, advice on how to get around the Twitter ban was written as graffiti on the streets, broadcast on a number of TV channels and published in opposition newspapers.
In 2008, Erdogan’s government banned YouTube because they did not want people to see videos criticizing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but it was lifted two years later. In September 2010, Vimeo was banned. Access was apparently revived because it was again banned by court order in January.
Erdogan says he will not stop with Twitter. When tremendous protests began challenging his rule over the summer, he said that social media is the “worst menace to society.” His government then arrested two dozen social media users for allegedly spreading disinformation.
Over 10,000 websites are blocked in Turkey because of their content, but the restrictions go far beyond the internet.
The Committee to Protect Journalists rates Turkey as the number one jailer of reporters on earth, even beating out notoriously oppressive governments like those in North Korea, Iran and China. After the internal challenge to Erdogan started, over 70 journalists were fired for covering it.
Since then, damning recordings have leaked out to the media proving that Erdogan directly censored coverage of the protests. Freedom House published a study last month that concluded that the suppression of the media is far-reaching.
“Editors and journalists in the mainstream media say they receive regular phone calls from the prime minister’s office to change stories, to downplay coverage, or to fire reporters or columnists,” it says.
Erdogan is also a passionate supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and there is solid evidence that his intelligence service assassinated three Kurdish activists linked to the PKK terror group in Paris in January 2013.
Turkey’s membership in NATO should be on the table. The NATO website says, “NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defense and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.”
When Turkey joined the alliance in 1952, it was a different country. Now, it is run by an Islamist government that is supportive of Hamas, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. It clamps down on the democratic values that NATO says it exists to promote.
Turkey came to this point incrementally, in accordance with the Islamist doctrine of gradualism. At first, the 2002 election victory of Erdogan’s party was hailed as a potential move towards democracy. As Turkey became increasingly hostile to the West’s interests, the West dismissed these hostilities as manageable differences between like-minded allies.
The change Turkey underwent from 2002 to 2014 isn’t only a lesson about Erdogan and his supporters. This is the gradualist doctrine in action.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.