In Turkey, 29 men and women are about to go on trial for Twitter messages they sent during the Gezi Protests last June. This is another ugly step in the Turkish government’s increasingly intense war on dissent. It is important to let the government – as well as those on trial – know that the whole world is watching.
A War on Social Media
The Turkish government’s war on social media is, at this point, infamous. Twitter, which Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called “the worst menace to society,” was blocked for weeks until the Constitutional Court finally ruled to overturn the ban.
The Turkish government had ignored other court rulings against the ban and, conveniently, managed to keep Twitter offline for millions of Turkish citizens until after tightly contested municipal elections last month.
In what seems to be developing as a major struggle between the government and the courts, Erdogan grumbled that he “did not respect the ruling.” For its part, the court appears to have recently opened a twitter account of its own. Apparently, judges have a sense of humor.
As I have argued previously, however, the twitter ban is only one part of a broad, on-going attack on freedom of expression in Turkey. Youtube remains banned. The government seems determined to centralize control of almost every corner of Turkish society.
With most mainstream Turkish media cowed into submission, social media has become an even more vital outlet for dissenting opinions. Recent negotiations between Twitter and the Erdogan government do not suggest that Turkey is likely to let up the pressure anytime soon.
The Twitter Trials
As the government continues to try to limit and control social media, it has moved forward with the shameful trial of individuals based on twitter messages that they sent during the Gezi protests last June. On April 21, these men and women, aged between 19 and 36, will be put on trial for “inciting the public to break the law.”
As Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher writes in a blog this week:
During the protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square and quickly spread around the country in June 2013, social media played a central role, allowing protestors to share information on where police were breaking up the protests or to request medical support or information on individuals whose whereabouts were unclear. With the mainstream media failing to report the events, social media platforms also allowed the public to find out what was going on in the streets.
The authorities and chiefly the Prime Minister responded by attacking the use of Twitter and other social media. The day after the Prime Minister famously called Twitter a ‘menace,’ arrests were carried out in the western city of Izmir for tweeting about the protests. The PM is himself listed as a “victim” in the case.
Gardner notes that tweets which voiced support for the protests, reported on police violence, or called for medical aid have been taken as evidence of “inciting the public to break the law.” Some, Gardner, writes “are accused of insulting the Prime Minister.”
None of the tweets cited as evidence call for violence. At most, they voice support for legal protest and call attention to unlawful police violence. The attack on freedom of expression could not be more clear.
Take Action to Defend Freedom of Expression on the Internet:
Amnesty International has initiated a Twitter campaign to call attention to the trial. Here are three ways you can use Twitter to fight for freedom of expression in Turkey:
1. Retweet one of the defendants’ tweets shown below, which is cited in the case sheet against one of the defendants.
— Özgün ER (@ozquner) June 2, 2013
Here is English translation of @ozquner’s tweet:
We are resisting under the rain, come on Izmir to Gundogdu #resistizmir #resistgezipark #geziparkinizmir
2. Tweet at Turkey’s Prime Minister, letting him know what you think:
– .@RT_Erdogan Exchanging information on twitter is not a crime #dropthecharges #IzmirTwitterCase
– .@RT_Erdogan Asking for help on twitter in the face of police violence is not a crime #dropthecharges #IzmirTwitterCase
– .@RT_Erdogan Calling ppl out to peacefully demonstrate vs police violence isn’t incitement to break to law #IzmirTwitterCase #dropthecharges
3. Send messages of support using the hashtags #IzmirTwitterCase and #dropthecharges
– Get updates from the courtroom as they happen on Monday by following Andrew Gardner on Twitter @andrewegardner