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Turkey’s ban on Twitter unleashes protest

Users challenge government move

Social media have been under scrutiny in Turkey after the prime minister’s son was ensnared in a corruption inquiry.

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Social media have been under scrutiny in Turkey after the prime minister’s son was ensnared in a corruption inquiry.

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s government on Friday stood by an order to block Twitter, even as many users, including some high officials, found ways to circumvent and challenge it.

“Blocking access was a court ruling, not a political decision,” said Lutfi Elvan, a government minister quoted by the semiofficial Anadolu News Agency hours after the ban was first noticed at about midnight.

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“Turkey is not a country prohibiting the Internet,” the minister said, but added that “Twitter, YouTube, and other social media networks have to abide by the law in Turkey.”

President Abdullah Gul was among ministers and government officials who bypassed the ban Friday, using mobile devices and other methods to join a debate on the government’s measures.

“Shutting down social media platforms cannot be approved,” Gul tweeted, adding that “it is not technically possible to fully block access to globally active platforms like Twitter, anyway.”

Since December, when a corruption inquiry ensnared government officials and business leaders, including the son of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, social media outlets including Twitter and YouTube have become key alternatives to traditional media outlets.

A barrage of leaks of dozens of documents posted by unidentified critics presented Erdogan with perhaps the biggest challenge in 11 years in office.

Some of the leaks related to efforts by Erdogan to control the media in Turkey, where, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 40 journalists were in jail in 2013. The prime minister was accused of making personal calls to media bosses seeking to have vocal critics fired.

The government called the recordings fakes, although independent analysts said they were authentic.

One recording purported to be of the prime minister telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash Dec. 17, when the homes of three former ministers’ sons were raided. Erdogan has repeatedly insisted that the recording was fake.

“It seems that there is some pivotal information that the government does not wish to spread over the Internet,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “Although such an effort sounds rational, it’s actually highly irrational when you consider it is impossible to stop social media networks. My son breached the ban in 15 seconds.”

The shutdown occurred 10 days before local elections and after Erdogan lashed out at Twitter at an election rally in the town of Bursa on Thursday, saying that he did not care about international reaction if national security was at stake.

Government officials have also sought to justify the attempted blockage by raising the issue of privacy. The Turkish telecommunications authority said Friday that the site had been blocked after citizens complained that their privacy had been breached.

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