Twitter Out in Turkey After Erdogan Threatens to Block It

March 21, 2014  

Turkey has reportedly blocked access to popular social network site Twitter, just hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened he would do so.

Reuters reported that Twitter users in Turkey were complaining of widespread outages.

According to the news agency, some users trying to open the website were taken to a statement apparently from Turkey’s telecommunications regulator (TIB). The statement cited four court orders as the basis for blocking the site, where some users in recent weeks have posted voice recordings and documents purportedly showing evidence of corruption among Erdogan’s inner circle.

Twitter said it was looking into the matter and had not issued a formal statement. The company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message, noted Reuters.

Just hours before the outage, Erdogan warned that he would “eradicate” Twitter in the wake of damaging allegations of corruption in his inner circle that have spread across social networks in recent weeks.

“We will wipe out Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says,” he said at an election rally in the western province of Bursa, according to the AFP news agency.

“They will see the Turkish republic’s strength,” he added.

The Internet Publishers Association, a body representing online and media companies, said the move was an attempt to “destroy freedom of expression.”

“The prime minister having the power to shut down Twitter will be the confirmation of dictatorship,” it said in a statement published by local media on Thursday.

Turkey, which has more than 10 million Twitter users, has seen access to thousands of sites blocked in recent years.

YouTube was banned for two years up to 2010 because of material deemed insulting to the country’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan’s office said in a statement that Twitter remained “indifferent” to court rulings about the removal of “some links” and that the premier was bringing that to attention.

“There could be no solution other than technically blocking access to Twitter in order to address the unjust treatment our citizens were subjected to unless Twitter changes its stance of ignoring court decisions and disobeying the law,” according to the statement made to the state-run Anatolia news agency and quoted by AFP.

Just two weeks ago, Erdogan threatened that his government could ban websites such as YouTube and Facebook after a raft of online leaks added momentum to a spiraling corruption scandal.

Recordings that were leaked include an apparent discussion between Erdogan and his son about hiding money, as well as others in which he appears to be interfering in business deals, court cases and media coverage.

Some of the most damaging information has come from a Twitter account under the name Haramzadeler (“Sons of Thieves”), which appears to have access to a huge trove of secret documents and police wiretaps linked to the investigation, reported AFP.

Erdogan has dismissed most of the recordings as “vile” fakes concocted by his rivals.

“This has nothing to do with freedoms. Freedom does not mean the right to intrude on someone’s privacy, or to pass the state’s secrets to the international arena,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

Erdogan’s government has been rocked by a vast corruption probe launched in December which saw dozens of people rounded up, including close business and political allies of the prime minister.

The Turkish strongman has accused associates of a former staunch ally, U.S.-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, of being behind the graft probe that claimed the scalps of four ministers.

Gulen has denied any involvement.

Turkey recently tightened government control of the Internet and the judiciary, generating criticism from rights groups.

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