Although Turkey's short-lived ban on Twitter is now over, that doesn't mean the service's trials and tribulations in Turkey are finished.
After the Constitutional Court in Ankara issued a ruling on April 2 calling for the block on Twitter to be lifted on the grounds that it violated Turkish citizens' freedom of expression, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted angrily. "I don't find it right and patriotic that the Constitutional Court has adopted such a decision," Erdogan said.
"While they are protecting an American company, our national and moral values are being disregarded."
But Turkey's Twitter-related troubles go deeper than just Erdogan's disdain for the social media platform. More ominously, there are currently several court cases taking place in Turkey that target Twitter users, accusing them of a range of crimes.
In Izmir, 29 defendants recently went on trial, accused of a range of "crimes" connected with last summer's Gezi Park protests. Reports the German press agency dpa:
Rights activists say the defendants, mostly youths, shared information on social media platforms about the mass demonstrations that started in Istanbul and spread nationwide, but none of them broke the law.
"These types of tweets must be protected by the constitution and actually they are protected," Duygucan Yazici, one of the defence lawyers, told dpa. "These are political charges."
Writing on Amnesty International's website, Andrew Gardner, the organization's Turkey researcher, said the case against the 29 Twitter users is one that should never have been brought to trial. "It is truly bizarre that 29 individuals should be brought to a court to defend their few handpicked tweets. None of the tweets contain incitement to or evidence of participation in violence’ or anything else that could be called criminal. They are simply sharing information and opinions – and it is their right to do so," he wrote.
One of the charges being brought against some of the defendants in Izmir is "insulting the Prime Minister," an accusation that was recently leveled against Onder Aytac, a Turkish columnist who yesterday was sentenced to ten months in prison for sending out a tweet that was deemed to have violated Erdogan's honor.
Aytac's case seems like a cross between a Kafka story and Terry Gilliam's Orwellian film "Brazil," where a man's life is turned upside down because a single incorrectly typed piece of official correspondence. The case against the columnist, who is closely affiliated with the Gulen movement and is a strong critic of the Erdogan government, rests on the fact that with one letter, Aytac turned a tweet with the word "my master" in it into something more vulgar (Erdogan's name was not actually mentioned). In his defense, Aytac said the addition of the letter, a "k," was a typo. The judge clearly thought otherwise.
Writing on Medium.com, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci offers some valuable insight regarding Aytac's case:
Aytaç has been sentenced to 10 months in jail, not convertible to a fine, for that “k”. Obviously, the alleged insult is now even more visible to broader audiences but blocking visibility is no longer an easy option for governments—though Turkey certainly tried a version of it, blocking Twitter during the crucial weeks before the local elections and initiating a demonizing campaign against social media.
Turkey’s not the only country with such restrictive defamation laws which were already stifling before social media. It may be a new world but for governments and their opponents, but some things are not: jails are very much as old-fashioned as it gets.
Welcome to the 21st century, where you can go to jail for one letter, but also be heard by hundreds of thousands of people by typing into a little device in your phone. Hang on to your hats.
Twitter may no longer be blocked in Turkey, but for the time being, it's clear the government still sees it as a threat and will continue to make sure that even if the service is accessible, Turks will think twice before using it.