Turkey’s YouTube ban violated human rights

The tendency of Turkish government agencies to shut down and block internet services at whim continues to draw condemnation from governments, companies, civil society — and even the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Yesterday, Europe’s highest human rights court added its voice to the chorus, finding that Turkey violated internet users’ right to freedom of expression when it banned YouTube for over two years between 2008 and 2010.

Access Now applauds this decision affirming the human rights of internet users, and we call on Turkey to respect the court by avoiding future bans and reforming its laws to prevent blanket censorship.

Ruling brings multiple breakthroughs for protecting rights

Three Turkish academics — Serkan Cengiz, Yaman Akdeniz, and Kerem Altıparmak — complained to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that the court-ordered, blanket YouTube ban violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (to which Turkey is a signatory). The court’s lower chamber unanimously agreed, saying the ban restricted the academics’ ability to seek and impart information and ideas on YouTube, and was not prescribed by law.

But the court did not stop there. This ruling builds on the earlier ruling by the ECtHR in Yildrim v. Turkey (2012), which found against the Turkish practice of blocking entire sites and web services when content might have been illegal in only some instances. In the 2012 decision, the court recognized the claim of the owner of a service using Google Sites; in this case, the plaintiffs were not site owners, but users. In short, this ruling recognizes the rights and standing of internet users under the Convention. The academics also successfully petitioned the court to recognize the concept of “citizen journalism” for the first time. This opens the door for more non-credentialed, unlicensed, or independent journalists and bloggers to fight for their rights.

Room for improvement: Turkish law may still allow shutdowns and blocking

One of the applicants, Yaman Akdeniz, notes that the court erred in part. The ECtHR did not require the government to rewrite the specific law under which the court-ordered blocking took place, Article 8 of Law 5651. Instead, it accepted Turkey’s argument that a recent addition, Article 8a, replaced the provision.

There’s still an opportunity for the applicants to appeal that part of this decision up to the highest Grand Chamber of the ECtHR. We support that appeal. It’s essential that Law 5651 be reformed to eliminate the possibility that any level of Turkish government or the courts will issue orders for blanket internet shutdowns or blocking. These orders unnecessarily and disproportionately violate rights, as we’ve said multiple times.

Access Now strongly opposes internet blocking and shutdowns. We will continue to press the Turkish government to follow international human rights law and norms and respect the rights of internet users in Turkey.