The Turkish government has blocked access to Reddit. An announcement on an official government site, dated November 13, 2015, says the website was found to be in violation of Turkey’s internet censorship law. Users lost access to Reddit the same day, but they regained access one day later.
Formally known as Internet Law No. 5651, this law has been subject to criticism by free speech activists since it was enacted in 2007. The law allows Turkey to block websites that contain material considered criminal, including pornography, drugs, prostitution, illegal file sharing and anti-government propaganda. Even a suspicion that such activities are taking place on a particular website is considered reason enough for a ban.
These decisions are made unilaterally by the Turkish Supreme Council for Telecommunications and IT (TIB). No court authorization is required to enact these bans, so the TIB can put a new ban in place in as little as four hours following the decision.
This is not the first time Turkey has controversially banned a large website, nor it is the first time such a ban has been lifted. Turkey banned Twitter earlier this year in response to images of two gunmen holding a prosecutor hostage. All three men were killed in the ensuing police shootout, and the TIB claimed that images of this event constituted anti-government propaganda. The ban was lifted after Twitter complied with requests to remove the pictures.
Turkey also banned YouTube under the same statute, and that decision ended up being taken to Turkey’s highest court. The court ruled that banning YouTube violated the constitution’s freedom of expression clause, and the ban was lifted soon after.
Why Ban Reddit?
It’s still not clear whether the ban occurred in response to a particular piece of objectionable material, or if the TIB simply wanted to remove Reddit in its entirety. Reddit claims to support unrestricted free speech, and it contains a number of controversial communities, some of which are already banned by certain countries. A section containing videos of people being killed is banned in Germany, and Russia previously banned all of Reddit until administrators removed a post describing how to grow psychedelic mushrooms.
Why Lift the Ban?
The simplest explanation would be that Reddit acquiesced to demands from Turkey, taking down whatever material resulted in the ban. However, Reddit publicly announces any such takedowns or restrictions, even those requested by Germany and Russia as well as more common DMCA takedown requests.
Reddit never did make an announcement in relation to this incident, though. In addition, it appears the TIB never even made such a request, simply banning Reddit without much in the way of explanation and then lifting the ban in the same manner.
One possible reason is that the ban wasn’t actually working. Turkey restricted access to Reddit through local domain name servers (DNS). By switching to a foreign DNS such as those provided by Google, Turkish users could still access the website.
Another possibility is that the ban was lifted in response to internal affairs in Turkey rather than any action taken by the website. The constitutional court already overruled the YouTube ban to protect freedom of expression, so it’s possible the TIB was notified that the Reddit ban would be removed in the same manner, if necessary. Because the TIB does not require approval before enacting a ban, the court may have been unaware of the impending ban until it became public knowledge.
Regardless of the reasons for this ban or its removal, activists are pointing to this incident as another vast overstep by the Turkish government in restricting free speech. Despite the international pressure, however, Turkey has not made any indication that the censorship law is being reconsidered.
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