Turkish delight: A for Arrest, B for Bots & C for Censorship

Short thesis

This panel, organised by Internet Policy Review, discusses the latest political and social dynamics at play in Turkish society, with a focus on the battle over communications. From the infamous internet law of 2007 to latest Tor and VPN blocking, the speakers will provide in-depth knowledge about the radical tightening of the Turkish online and offline communication channels.


This panel, organised by Internet Policy Review, discusses the latest political and social dynamics at play in Turkish society, with a focus on the battle for the control over communications.

The speakers – a technology journalist, a lawyer on international law and a computer scientist – will provide in-depth information about the current state of political online communication in Turkey. Since the internet law of 2007, the imposition of internet filters in 2011, the repression of the Gezi protests in 2013, the 2014 defamation amendment, the 2015 national security amendment and more recently, the post-coup amendments and attacks, the Turkish authorities have progressively increased their appetite for an authoritarian rule. Purges in the military, suppression of critical journalists, persecution and lay-offs of “Academics for Peace”, massive lay-offs in public posts after the July 2016 coup attempt — which was regarded as “a gift from heaven” by President Erdoğan, intimidation and repression of targeted groups (e.g., Kurds and left-wing movements) and many more events in the run-up to the Turkish Constitutional Referendum 2017 were constantly accompanied by an ever-increasing control over the means of communication by governmental interests.

Online media and independent voices in social media have progressively been targeted by pro-government trolls, have seen their websites under DDoS attack or taken down. Fake Twitter accounts have taken this social network by assault, especially around election time. Censorship has started morphing into different shapes and it is now increasingly clear that government-backed forces are surveilling opponents. There are traces that agencies responsible for internet governance in Turkey are surveilling communications such as mobile via IMSI-catcher. Internet service providers (ISPs) are required by law to use deep packet inspection (DPI) since February 2014 in order to keep detailed traffic logs for 2 years. In a post-coup-attempt amendment, cyber-crime police units are authorised to access these logs.

In addition to the usual blocking of social media sites and other domains, the government is quite creative in communication control to the extent that Turkey became a pioneer for applying unusual internet blocking methods such as bandwidth throttling. Internet blocking circumvention tools such as Tor and VPNs are blocked and cannot be used extensively in the country. Cutting down the internet and telephone communications altogether in crisis regions where mass protests are expected can also be added to the list.

Nevertheless, there is a stubborn and vivid opposition in the country which uses the remaining venues of communication effectively. An example is the sendika.org independent news website which has been “permanently” closed by the government or its courts 19 times before. Yet, it is currently (April 2017) operating as sendika20.org.

The speakers will retrace the road to extensive internet censorship in Turkey, expose methods and strategies used by pro-government forces to reign-in online communications. They will assess ways forward in light of Turkey’s suspension of the European Convention of Human Rights. Finally, they will hint at some of the tactics that civil society, academia and the independent media is using to dodge censorship and to advance a progressive agenda.

Moderation: Uta Meier-Hahn, PhD candidate at Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Berlin

Speaker 1: Prof. Melih Kırlıdoğ, Visiting researcher at Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Berlin

Speaker 2: Efe Kerem Sözeri, Independent journalist, The Hague

Speaker 3: Prof. Başak Çalı, Professor of international law at Hertie School of Governance, Berlin