can’t see the forest

Gobbling Up Freedom of Information, One Iron-Fisted Act of Censorship at a Time

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Let’s get it out in the open—I can resist neither cigarettes nor horrible puns.

As most of you probably knew long before I did, a Turkish court on 17 August blocked all access to the WordPress domain in response to the complaints of Adnan Oktar, a Turkish creationist writer of controversial repute. Here are some of the pertinent details from Global Voices Advocacy:

Matthew Mullenweg, founding developer of the popular WordPress blogging platform, has received a letter from the lawyers acting on behalf of a Turkish Islamic-creationist, Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, claiming to be responsible for the blanket ban on blogs hosted on the wordpress.com blogging platform in Turkey. On August 17, 2007, the Turkish Fatih Second Civil Court of First Instance blocked access to all wordpress.com blogs in response to a suit filed by Adnan Oktar’s lawyers on the grounds that blogs hosted on the platform published allegedly defamatory and “unlawful” statements about their client. The Court’s decision resulted in Turkish Internet users being unable to access more than one millions weblogs hosted wordpress.com. . .

. . . It has also been reported by Monsters and Critics that the court ordered Turk Telecom (Turk Telekomunikasyon) to block [a] few specific websites. But, when the authors of those sites moved the allegedly defamatory content to other blogs hosted on the wordpress.com domain “we applied to the court to order that all websites of WordPress be blocked,” kerim Kalkan, a lawyer for Adnan Oktar, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). Adnan Oktar’s lawyers are accusing Edip Yuksel, a Turkish writer and rival of their client, of using wordpress.com blogs to publish “slander” about Adnan Oktar. They are asking wordpress.com to dismiss all of the blogs responsible for the alleged defamatory content . . .

Don’t Blog the Blog

Details, and a Bit of Background

Matt and WordPress, thankfully and quite commendably, have denied Oktar’s requests and have largely ignored his threats. Matt wrote on 25 August:

In addition to some blogs they complained about, their main request was that we block the name of their client being used by any blog hosted by our site, much like you can’t write “democracy” on blogs hosted by MSN Spaces in China. I’m going to skip some bits to the threat at the end:

There is a lesson which all blog services and internet service providers should take from this judgement. Blog services, especially the ones that give free service, should be careful about the sites that are illegally active through their firms. These services should not remain insensitive to the compl[a]ints that they receive and especially to the judgements. It is certain that the services which behave opppositely will meet with the same enforcement that WordPress met.

So if you don’t disallow certain words being used on your blogs, you’ll be punitively punished through our state-controlled ISP. Today those words are “Adnan Oktar.” Who knows what they’ll be tomorrow.

Exactly, Matt. Exactly.

Both Oktar and the Turkish judiciary have been involved in censorship controversy throughout 2007. BlogHerald reports that, just this past spring, Turkish courts nationally banned access to YouTube after a series of anti-Turkish videos were posted. These videos (or at least, some of them) featured Greek zealots engaged in defamatory dialog about “breaking off the Turks’ heads” and “planting a cross in the Hagia Sophia.” More than 200,000 emails were sent to YouTube requesting removal of the offensive material, and these requests were eventually honored. YouTube, though, as BlogHerald points out, does employ a flagging system whereby users can petition for the removal of questionable content. Thus, rather than exercising the right of free speech through conventional channels, the offended protesters were incited to invoke the agency of government censorship.

As for Oktar, who frequently prefers—conveniently enough—to publish his own hysterical and libelous criticisms of others under a pseudonym, the International Freedom of Expression eXchange notes that he was successful (also this past spring) in getting an Istanbul court to ban access to the online news provider Eksisozluk and several other websites which, Oktar alleged, had published slanderous material. The ban was lifted after it was discovered that site moderators had already removed the articles in question, but the decision clearly constituted a victory for Oktar and his eager attorneys.

Oktar’s fundamentalist-creationist outfit takes the Orwellian name Birim Araştirma Vakfi (“Scientific Research Foundation,” or SRF). This group is known for vocal and persistent attacks on the teaching of evolutionary theory in Turkish institutions. In the late 1990s, Oktar generously slathered with slander numerous Turkish academics by publishing and distributing fliers labeling the teachers of evolution to be “communists, separatists, and Maoists.”

According to the UK’s Antisemitism and Xenophobia Today, SRF distributed in 1996 a book presumably written by Oktar entitled Soykirim Yalani (“Holocaust Lie.”) This book attempted to claim that “what is presented as the Holocaust” was, in reality, merely a combination of miscellaneous misunderstandings involving an apparently all-Jewish typhus outbreak and general famine resulting from the defeat of Nazi Germany. SRF then proceeded to bring a slander suit against Turkish intellectual Bedri Baykam after Baykam published a strongly-worded critique of the book in an Ankara daily.

 

The Outlook

Notable U.S. blogger Ali Eteraz wrote on 20 August:

 

I wrote about this topic at Guardian news paper’s Comment is Free today. I am essentially calling out the Islamist AKP Party who are now in power. Why did I do that? It’s not because I think they are to blame for the ban…yet. Rather, because they are in power, they have to be pressured and told that when their courts legitimize bans such as this, people are going to inquire why it happened. Imagine if an American court banned all WordPress blogs because of a petition by one person. Wouldn’t we appeal to the party in power? I accept the will of the Turkish people in giving AKP power, however, with great power comes great responsibility. I’m fairly confident they’ll do the right thing i.e. balance Harun Yahya’s rights against the public interest in free speech.

It would be all too easy to construe this issue as a matter of East-vs.-West ideological friction, and certainly tempting to involve oneself in debate over what is and is not slander, or in a (perhaps justified) finger-pointing diatribe about Oktar/Yahya and hypocritical wankerdom. All things considered, though, if we’re going to adopt a constructive approach (that is, if we’re going to be propositional and not merely oppositional, as PG would aptly prescribe), then I suspect that Eteraz is spot-on: the proper resolution for this issue will require the attention of the Turkish legislature.

Whatever the alignment of the party in power, a progressive, modern Turkey must proactively curtail this kind of judicial three-ring circus if the nation is to retain viability and credibility in the 21st Century. For Oktar, placing the onus on the institution of WordPress was merely the easiest and most sensational maneuver, and hardly a new addition to his own playbook as recent history amply demonstrates. The Turkish people are the real victims in all of this, and that is why it is imperative that their representatives step up to the plate. This is about much more than national embarrassment and bolstering the Turkish EU bid. It’s about the fundamental rights of millions of citizens triumphing against the beady-eyed cynicism of one lone anti-intellectual—because, as Matt hinted above, the Oktar of today will only multiply exponentially in the future if these antics are not sternly and quickly quelled. Otherwise, the logic of the Turkish courts would seem to dictate that, at some point down the road, the number of banned websites could easily exceed the number of sites accessible to Turkish surfers.

The blogosphere has been abuzz with reactions to this drama. It is apparent that the sensibilities of many DIY journalists have been offended, and it is my hope that these energies can be harnessed and directed to the attention of the proper authorities in Ankara. As my favorite Turkish Canadian blogger wrote last month:

I put out a call for all bloggers, on all platforms, to make silly jokes and bad puns and hey, some defamatory statements about anal-retentitiveness while we’re at it about the apparently both well-connected and thin-skinned ADNAN OKTAR or his pen name HARUN YAHYA.

This will cause Turkey either to extend the ban to ALL blogging platforms, including mainstream newspapers such as the Guardian and the New York Times, or to drop their block against WordPress. Such legal actions have to be asserted in all cases, or they must be dropped.

Absolutely. These are the times that try men’s souls . . .

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses

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  1. raincoaster said, on 9/14/07 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for posting this. Ali would probably have written about it anyway, but the fact that I asked him to put something out there probably helped. I encourage everyone who knows a journalist to contact them on this issue. Until it gets publicized outside of WordPress.com, the Turkish people will continue to be cut off from a world of information…like this blog.

  2. Ann El Khoury said, on 9/15/07 at 11:47 pm

    Just discovered that ticked-off Turks have circumvented this by setting up a clone of many (all?) WP blogs on “wordprexy” . Its already being addressed in the forums — worth a look — and I’d be interested to know what you think.

    Your “wordprexy” blog is mirrored at http://tellitlikeitis.wordprexy.com/

    I was bemused to see my blog mirrored at :
    http://peoplesgeography.wordprexy.com

    Their explanation is here

    They all have this disclaimer at the foot of the page (in Turkish):
    Wordprexy.com: Disclaimer – Yasal
    WordPrexy.com sadece WordPress.com’un icerigini yansilamaktadir. WordPrexy.com ve GreatFirewallofTurkey.com sitedeki icerikten sorumlu degildir. Bize ulasmak icin bu formu kullanabilirsiniz. Uygunsuz icerik barindiran veya hakkinda yasal olarak kapatilmasi icin bildirim yapilan adreslerin erisimi durdurulmaktadir.

  3. Curtis said, on 9/16/07 at 9:37 am

    Very interesting, indeed! Great to know about that, and thanks for the linx.

  4. raincoaster said, on 9/16/07 at 4:41 pm

    I’d prefer it if there were no adsense, but oh well, we have adsense here at WP.com too, so what the hell.


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