Turkey tightens internet censorship, bans access to 16 VPN providers – Stockholm Center for Freedom

Turkey’s Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK) has banned access to 16 VPN providers that are frequently used to circumvent government censorship, Turkish Minute reported on Monday, citing Deutsche Welle’s Turkish edition.

The move signals a significant tightening of the Turkish government’s efforts to control internet access and the flow of information.

Professor Yaman Akdeniz, founder of the Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD) and a faculty member at İstanbul Bilgi University law school who’s an expert in IT law, spoke to DW Türkçe about the new VPN ban, which also affects popular providers such as Proton, Surfshark, Ipvanish and Cyberghost.

Akdeniz emphasized that this new strategy of the government and the BTK aims to prevent access to news sites censored by the Turkish government, especially via VPN services. Foreign-based news outlets such as DW Türkçe and the Turkish edition of Voice of America (VOA Türkçe) are particularly affected as access to these websites is currently banned in the country.

According to İFÖD’s EngelliWeb initiative, around 712,558 websites were banned in Turkey at the end of 2022, and projections suggest that this number could rise to around 900,000 by the end of 2023. Akdeniz said the legal basis for the VPN ban is based on an amendment to Law No. 5651 from 2014, which obliges internet service providers to block “alternative access methods” to censored websites. He criticized the ban as arbitrary and lacking a court order, arguing that it violates the freedom of communication protected by the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Despite these restrictions, VPN providers continue to find ways to circumvent the ban by introducing new VPN names and IP addresses, DW Türkçe reported.

The censorship of DW Türkçe and VOA Türkçe stems from a decree issued by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), Turkey’s broadcasting regulator, in August 2019, according to which internet news platforms must obtain a license from RTÜK. DW did not comply with this requirement, citing incompatibilities with German laws and possible censorship. As a result, its website was blocked in Turkey in July 2022, as was VOA Türkçe’s.

The outlets described RTÜK’s demand in February 2022 as an attempt at censorship and at expansion of the Turkish government’s control over domestic media to foreign outlets, which are the only source of free and independent journalism for some people in Turkey, where the majority of the media is controlled by the government.

DW challenged this decision before the Turkish Constitutional Court, claiming that freedom of expression and the press as well as the right to a fair trial and an effective remedy, as guaranteed by the Turkish Constitution and the ECHR, were violated.

In an attempt to make its content available to Turks, DW continued its operations on alternative websites, dwturkce.com and inspiredminds.de/tr, since its main web address, dw.com/tr, was blocked. In November dwturkce.com and inspiredminds.de/tr were also blocked following decisions by the Ankara 9th Criminal Court of Peace.

Turkey, where internet freedom has steadily declined over the past decade, ranks among the “not free” countries concerning online freedoms, according to a report released by the US-based nonprofit Freedom House in October.

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