Turkey blocked Wikipedia on April 29 allegedly for publishing articles which claim Turkey channeled support to jihadists in Syria. The ban was enforced under an administrative measure No.490.05.01.2017-182198 /5651. It preceded a court order which reads that “a ban has been implemented on the website ‘www.wikipedia.org,’ based on the Law No. 5651”. The Wikipedia ban was accompanied by the closure of television dating shows.
Government critics say that the ban is a crackdown on free speech on the internet. A member of the Turkish opposition party CHP, while talking to Bloomberg, said that “the government can’t get enough of censorship”.The ban coincides with deeply unflattering updates to Erdogan’s Wikipedia profile after he won the April 16 referendum, reports Stuart Williams of AFP.
Turkey Blocks, an independent non-partisan censorship monitoring network observed that all language editions of Wikipedia were blocked with effect from 8:00 AM local time Saturday 29 April.
Interestingly, savvy internet users in Istanbul were reported accessing Wikipedia through secure VPN (Virtual Private Network) tunnels. A VPN hides user identity by anonymizing IP addresses. A VPN Service, such as ExpressVPN helps bypass the censorship and can be used to unblock websites in Turkey, having an added advantage of unblocking the complete US Netflix library.
Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales took to Twitter expressing his desire to stand by Turkish people’s fundamental right of access to information.
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) April 29, 2017
— Turkey Blocks (@TurkeyBlocks) April 29, 2017
Law No. 5651
Hurriyetdailynews, a leading news site of Turkey, reported that the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) used Law. No. 5651 to restrict access to the popular online encyclopedia. The ban on Wikipedia comes amid a ferocious crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime arresting 3,900 public employees which include police and military officials.
Censorship in the guise of security
Turkey has a long tradition of controlling or suppressing what its citizen can access, view or publish on the internet. The government usually resorts to censorship methods such as outright ban, internet throttling, IP blocking by giving routers a blacklist of undesirable websites and DNS poisoning. The erosion of online liberties has picked up pace after the ‘Law 5651’ was passed in 2014 by the parliament giving excessive censorship powers to BTK.
The history of restrictions
Before the recent wave of arrests, Turkey also restricted access to Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram, and YouTube in a move to suppress Erdogan’s political opponents.
Erdogan’s authoritarian regime realizes that the internet is a powerful mobilizing tool. In the wake of these strict internet censorship measures, citizens have taken to tools that can help mask their identity as well as provide access to the censored websites.
Tools such as VPNs help secure their online activities from being trapped by the government and snooping agencies when governments opt to block and censor what its citizens can and cannot access on the internet. Though, governments like that of Turkey and China keep devising workarounds to ban VPNs.