Turkish authorities block access to news websites

New York, July 28, 2015–Turkish authorities blocked access to at least eight news websites in Turkey on Saturday amid what the government called a counter-terrorism operation, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Turkish authorities to restore access to the websites so that Turkish citizens can access news of public interest.

The move comes amid increased violence in Turkey as the country late last week joined the fight against the militant group Islamic State in Syria and northern Iraq, although some critics say that the government is using the opportunity to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), both of which have been classified as terrorist organizations, news reports said. The Turkish government and the PKK, which operates out of northern Iraq, have had a truce in place since 2013, the reports said.

Turkey’s telecommunications regulator, the TİB, blocked domestic access on Saturday to pro-Kurdish and leftist websites based in Turkey and northern Iraq, according to news reports. The blocked websites include Rudaw, the digital portal of the Kurdish media network; the Erbil-based news agency BasNews; the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA); the Hawar News Agency (ANHA); the daily Özgür Gündem; the information portal Yüksekova Haber; the left-wing Sendika; and the Kurdish news agency RojNews, according to news reports.

The Gölbaşı Court of Penal Peace in Ankara on Friday issued an order to block dozens of websites–including the eight–after the government called on the TİB to block access to them, the independent news portal Bianet reported. According to the court, the websites were blocked for “promoting terrorist propaganda,” the online English-language version of the daily Bugün newspaper, BGNNews, reported.

According to a law passed in March, the government can demand that the TİB block access to certain websites, and the regulator must apply to a court within 24 hours of blocking the websites for the restriction to continue. Then the court must rule within 48 hours of the TİB application for the blocking to be continued, the English-language daily Today’s Zaman reported.

“We call on Turkish authorities to immediately restore access to all news websites and to stop trying to limit the flow of information,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “At this critical juncture for Turkey, its citizens, neighbors, and partners should all have access to every possible source of information and opinion.”

Turkish authorities on July 22 blocked access to Twitter for several hours to stop social media users from spreading images of a suicide attack, which was carried out near the country’s border with Syria and killed dozens, and calling for anti-government protests, according to news reports. The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the move followed a court ruling that called for the footage to be banned across social media and broadcast networks. A Turkish government official said access to Twitter was restored after the company “removed malicious content, including hate speech, in line with the court order,” the reports said.

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