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In Turkey, Proposed Internet Filters Stir Protests

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In Turkey, Proposed Internet Filters Stir Protests


In Turkey, Proposed Internet Filters Stir Protests

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now to Turkey and questions about freedom of expression. New Internet restrictions are scheduled to take effect later this year. They involve filters which the Turkish government says will target adult content. But critics call them another blow to free speech. Scores of journalists are already in jail and thousands more are under investigation.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has the story from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON: For months now, Turks have been protesting the government's plan to force internet users to choose from among a list of filtering packages designed to block certain unspecified websites. Some of the largest demonstrations were held in May.


KENYON: Government websites have also been hacked as activist groups seek to bring international attention to what they see as a threat to free expression.

Professor Ozgur Uckun, of Bilgi University, says thousands websites may already be blocked in Turkey, including an unknown number of political sites. Publicly, Turkish officials are vigorously defending both the internet restrictions and the way Turkish media are treated. When the U.S. ambassador raised concerns about press freedom earlier this year, Interior Minister Besir Atalay was having none of it.

BESIR ATALAY: (Through Translator) In terms of press freedom, Turkey is well ahead of America. Turkey has a very progressive press law, and compared with the rest of the world, press freedom here is lived to the fullest.

KENYON: But for those who would hold Turkey up as a model for Arab protesters demanding reforms, the issue of threats to the media - both new and old - is a problem. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ratcheted up the pressure during her recent visit to Turkey. She told an audience on CNN's Turkish channel that a country this strong and stable should be able to withstand opinions it doesn't care for - something U.S. politicians have long learned to live with.

HILLARY CLINTON: People say or do things in my country that personally I find just offensive, and un-patriotic and anti-American, and makes my blood boil. But we know that, over time, that basically gets overwhelmed by other opinion.

KENYON: Turks, however, have never embraced the notion that the cure for infuriating free speech is more free speech. Veteran journalist and author Ertugrul Mavioglu remembers the days when the threats were old-fashioned - bombs exploding in a newspaper office, reporters being murdered. These days, he says, the powers that be tend to rely on the judiciary. He can't remember if he has seven or eight cases pending against him at the moment.

ERTUGRUL MAVIOGLU: (Through Translator) There are 2,000 court cases pending against journalists in Turkey right now, and roughly 10,000 ongoing investigations. And all of this makes doing your job very difficult. You have to spend time getting prepared, writing your defense, dealing with the police, it's extremely difficult.

KENYON: Mavioglu believes international pressure can help raise the issue's profile, but it will be up to Turkish journalists willing to risk their careers and possibly their liberty, to confront the government and convince it that a free press is worth the headache.

MAVIOGLU: (Through Translator) The overt abuses of the press under the junta in the 1980s are now a bit more subtle. But the government is using everything in its power - economic pressure, law enforcement, judicial pressure - to create only a single voice in the country. And their efforts have been paying off. So when Hillary Clinton or the E.U. makes a statement, that's not what will convince Erdogan to change.

KENYON: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office released a statement after Clinton's visit saying that as someone who's experienced threats for his words in the past, Erdogan would not allow journalists to be punished for properly doing their jobs, and that Turkey would not allow freedom of the press to be threatened.

Analysts say the next signal of the government's intentions on media freedom will be how it proceeds with the modified internet filter proposal, now set to take place in November.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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