Turkey’s president on Friday rejected a ban on Facebook and YouTube after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the sites could be shut down to stop his foes anonymously posting audio recordings purportedly exposing corruption in his inner circle.
In the latest recording, posted to YouTube on Thursday, a voice purported to be Erdogan’s berates a newspaper owner over the telephone about an article and suggests the journalists involved be sacked. If genuine, the recording will further stoke concerns over media freedom and Erdogan’s authoritarian style of leadership.
Erdogan rejects any accusations of corruption and blames US-based Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, for the anonymously posted wiretaps, which he says have been “fabricated”.
Gulen has many followers in Turkey, especially in the police and judiciary. He denies any involvement.
President Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, said freedom of expression was an important value buttressed by the government’s own reforms.
Ban ‘out of the question’
Asked about Erdogan’s threat, he said on Friday, “YouTube and Facebook are recognised platforms all over the world. A ban is out of the question.”
The president in Turkey is, however, a largely ceremonial figure.
Gule said that if a person’s privacy were violated, a recent law allowed authorities to block access to material on the sites.
“We are always proud of the reforms we have made regarding the broadening of freedoms,” said Gul, who has come under fire from liberal-minded Turks over the past year for not contesting some government measures they see as curtailing basic freedoms.
In a TV interview on Thursday, Erdogan raised the option of a ban on YouTube and Facebook after March 30 local elections. He said, “We will take the necessary steps in the strongest way ... because these people [Gulen’s followers] ... encourage every kind of immorality and espionage for their own ends.”
Erdogan says the postings are part of a campaign to discredit him and his government, which has presided over more than a decade of strong economic growth and rising living standards.
Erdogan slams 'vile' ploy
Erdogan has been under mounting pressure after audio recordings were leaked last month in which he and his son allegedly discuss how to hide vast sums of money.
He dismissed them as a “vile” ploy by rivals ahead of key local elections on March 30. His office claimed the recordings were “completely untrue”.
He says fragments of tapped conversations have been fitted together in a “montage,” giving a false impression of their content - a claim he repeated at a packed election rally on Friday in the western city of Eskisehir.
He has accused so-called “Gulenists” of acting like a “parallel state” and vowed to cleanse the state of them by purging police and passing laws to increase his grip over the Internet and the judiciary.
“Social media has turned into a domain… where the battle between the loyalists of the frustrated prime minister and the alleged ‘parallel state’ is in full swing,” says Asli Tunc, professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.
“The government is seeking to find channels to shut down the social media which leaks tapes or dissident views. People cling to social media tools like Twitter for their news because the mainstream media or TVs are cowering in fear,” she said.
Looming elections raising stakes
There was no immediate reaction from Facebook or YouTube to Erdogan’s threat.
Turkey banned YouTube for more than two years until 2010 after users posted videos the government deemed insulting to the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Five more recordings have appeared on YouTube this week, which Erdogan sees as a systematic campaign to sully his AK Party before the local elections and a presidential poll due later this year.
The authenticity of the recordings has not been verified.
The governing AK Party, which remains far ahead of its rivals in opinion polls despite the corruption scandal, denies exerting undue influence over the media, but journalists, rights groups and the European Union - which Turkey aspires to join - have long accused the government of curtailing press freedoms.
In another recording this week, Erdogan purportedly urges his then-justice minister to speed up a court case against a media magnate who belongs to a secular elite that has often had tense relations with the government.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-07