Clashes in Istanbul over proposed Internet restrictions

Protests in Istanbul February 2014 © Erhan Arık / Nar Photos  Used by Permission

Protests in Istanbul February 2014 © Erhan Arık / Nar Photos Used by Permission

News reports from Istanbul this evening describe police attempts to cordon off sections of Taksim from protestors.  The reports describe police using tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.

According to Reuters:

Riot police advanced along Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue behind armored vehicles firing water cannon at protesters, some of whom waved flags and held up placards.

Some demonstrators responded by throwing stones or setting off fireworks aimed at police before scattering into side streets.

The protests were in response to a troubling new law aimed at asserting greater control over the internetAs the New York Times reported earlier this week:

But now, facing a wide-ranging corruption investigation and a steady flow of embarrassing leaks, the government has moved to more aggressively control the flow of information online by passing — in a late-night parliamentary session on Wednesday — a new set of laws that would make it easier for government bureaucrats to censor the Internet.

Under the legislation, Turkey, which already has strict laws to regulate content online, will allow government officials to block sites they deem violate personal privacy, without obtaining a court order. It would also force Internet companies to retain the data — like emails and search histories — accumulated by their customers for two years, which some here worry could be used by the authorities to start criminal investigations.

In another disturbing signal regarding restrictions on freedom of expression on the internet, an Azerbaijani national, Mahir Zeynalov, was deported this week for tweets he made regarding  scandals rocking the Erdogan government.  A New York Times blog on his deportation notes that:

Turkish Internet regulations have already been criticized for their vague description of the type of content that can be banned, such as anything relating to “sexuality…”

The telecommunications agency has already blocked more than 30,000 websites, according to independent groups monitoring Internet restrictions, although the government has not released official data on the number of banned sites.

We’ll have more information as soon as it is available.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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