140 Characters Lands Miss Turkey in Jail

Christopher Sewerd In the News

We’re all used to hearing stories of dictatorships cracking down on social media but more surprising are the moves Turkey have been making in recent years to limit their citizens use of online tools to communicate freely.

Last year Twitter was blocked from being accessed inside Turkey in a response to recordings of private government meetings being leaked on YouTube and the sharing of links via the social media site. Users quickly found ways to circumvent such blocks and the restriction was lifted a month later.

No freedom of speech in Turkey

Recep Tayyip ErdoganTurkey has a history of limiting freedom of speech in public when spoken against the leading echelons of the country. Only recently a 16 year old boy was lifted from his school class and put on trial for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This in itself may seem crazy by western standards but further bewilderment surrounding the case was seen when the court about to try the youngster was set to take place behind closed doors.

The teen, Mehmet Emin Altunses was arrested after comments he made at a public student protest but it is now clear that social media and online networks are being monitored by Turkish authorities to discover those who criticise the government online.

Miss Turkey about to be cooked

Merve Buyuksarac who won Miss Turkey in 2006 and was a former Miss World contestant has found herself in hot waters after she shared a satirical poem on photo based social networking site Instagram. The former Turkish beauty defended her actions stating that she did not insult the president as he was prime minister at the time and regardless of his position the photo containing the poem was also shared by a further 960,000 people in Turkey.

In Turkish law it is a criminal offence to insult public officials, something which has been widely punished in the offline world. The Miss Turkey situation now makes clear that the country are actively pursuing those who criticise or insult officials in the online world.

Originally prosecutors were requesting a 4 year jail term for Buyuksarac which has since been quashed due to the now president being the prime minister at the time of the alleged e-insult. Although not technically as bad as insulting the president the act of insulting a public official such as the prime minister still calls for a sentence of around 2 years which is what Buyuksarac will face should a trial go ahead.

Turkish online censorship increasing

Turkish social media users should take heed of the warning in the Merve Buyuksarac case as after the Twitter block in early 2014 it appears that an increase in censorship of social media and in the case of the Turkish ex-beauty monitoring will likely continue for those who don’t post anonymously and encrypt their online habits through services such as a VPN.

Recent transparency reports from Twitter themselves show that Turkey sent the most requests for removal of content from the social media network. A clear indication that freedom of tweets holds about the same respect as freedom of speech in Turkey. Combined content removal requests from Turkish government agencies, police and others made up 60 percent of the overall removal requests received by Twitter which is an astonishing amount.

While those who publicly insult Turkish officials in minor ways are at risk of some rather hefty jail terms in relation to the crime others who actively protest against government corruption and oppose the government find themselves at even more risk of online censorship.

As recently as December 2014 Turkish journalist Sedef Kabaş found her home raided after she used Twitter to send out messages stating that the government had covered up a corruption scandal. A five year jail term hangs over the head of Kabaş for allegedly “targeting public servants tasked with fighting against terrorism” on Twitter.