Turkey declares war on ISIS, censors Kurdish news instead
Turkish government banned access to 97 websites and requested 51 Twitter accounts to be withheld, including Kurdish journalists’
After the suicide bombing attack in Suruç which took 31 civilian lives, Turkish government declared a war against ISIS by deploying air strikes on ISIS positions in Northern Syria but expanded strikes to Kurdish PKK camps in Northern Iraq as well.
Turkey’s fight against ISIS is part of the deal with the US, allowing US air force to use Turkish bases when attacking ISIS and creating a “safe zone” in Northern Syria for the return of 1.8 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
But the fight against Kurds is part of domestic politics.
Erdoğan governments had been running peace talks with the Kurdish armed group, PKK, since 2009. First, under secret meetings and later in direct talks with PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, Erdoğan’s leadership ran a progressive campaign to settle a ceasefire between PKK and Turkey. At its peak, Öcalan called for a “farewell to arms” in March 2013.
But things changed drastically in September 2014 when ISIS forces besieged Kobani, a Kurdish border town in Northern Syria. Turkey’s Kurds requested government to allow volunteer fighters to pass through the border and join the fight against ISIS, but Erdoğan — also at the frustration of the US administration, rejected. Kurds’ frustration was much bigger and turned into mass riots where -at least- 31 people (46, according İHD) have been killed in the street clashes between the police, pro-Kurdish and pro-ISIS groups in October 2014.
The Kobani riots was a turning point for Erdoğan’s Kurdish support. It was when the Kurdish voters got further away from Erdoğan’s party [PDF, p.87], eventually causing AKP to lose the single-party government after 13 years in power.
Regarding the airstrikes, Turkey’s interim PM Davutoğlu stated that “the operations will continue as long as there is a threat against Turkey” but apparently the Turkish administration perceive Kurds as a bigger threat than ISIS. Along with the airstrikes, Turkish police was busy detaining some 1050 people in four days, most are from Leftist and pro-Kurdish groups. ISIS strongholds in Turkey, however, are being visited by the police only now — almost a year after New York Times reported about them.
Same double standards also apply to the online operations.
A Turkish-language ISIS propaganda website, TakvaHaber.net, was online since 2010 and was being used to recruit fighters for ISIS. It is banned only two weeks ago together with 9 similar websites.
But the ban on pro-Kurdish websites were quicker and much more aggressive. Within two days, Turkey’s government banned 97 websites and request withholding of 51 accounts from Twitter. An incomplete list provided by Turkey’s anti-censorship group, EngelliWeb, shows 65 websites of news agencies, newspapers, and pro-PKK websites, and a court order provided by Kurdish journalist Amed Dicle shows 29 Twitter accounts including his, and another Kurdish journalist Bircan Sterk:
The double standard is not only in numbers, but also in the significance of the ban’s targets.
Fırat News Agency (ANF), Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and Etkin News Agency (ETHA) are the three main independent news agencies that serve updates from the East of Turkey, Özgür Gündem is a national Leftist daily and Sendika.org is a 14-year-old online news outlet for labour news and unions. Turkey’s ban also includes popular Iraqi news agencies, Rudaw and BasNews.
After the ban, Sendika.org announced a mirror website Sendika.tv only to be blocked the next day. Now, many of the news outlets are providing guides to circumvent the censorship such as using popular Google Chrome extension ZenMate, or using VPN services; while others took legal action to appeal the banning order.
But the courts are unlikely to be the solution as judicial independence has been weakened and the political freedoms are limited by law.
Turkey’s censorship machine got more speed when Erdoğan’s AKP amended the Internet Law to allow ministers to ban websites in 4 hours on the grounds of “national security, public order, preventing crime, and security of life and property” (Article 8/A). The Ankara court, which reviewed and approved government’s ban on 96 websites, apparently found nothing wrong to ban a non-existing website “ksp-dcs.com” and ban ANF twice in the list provided by the government. It is hard to assume that the court has seriously considered public’s right to information or individuals’ freedom of speech whatsoever.
Turkey’s internet freedom duo, law professors Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altıparmak appealed to the Supreme Court for the overturn of the amendment as well.
But in the meantime, Turkey’s government is continuing its crackdown on opposition with longer and longer blacklists.