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Censors back off at IMF summit

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/7/2009 12:00:00 AM |

Turkey is notorious for banning Web sites, specifically the YouTube ban that is now more than a year old. But at the Istanbul headquarters for the ongoing IMF-World Bank meetings, journalists were surprised to find they had total, unrestricted access to the Internet. ‘Turkey is a democratic country. That the ban exists is really unbelievable," says one journalist

After logging onto the Internet at the Istanbul Congress Valley, headquarters of the annual International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings, journalists were surprised to discover they were the only people with unrestrained access to the Internet throughout the entire country. “Regular” Turkish Internet users have to use proxy sites, such as vtunnel.com, for free open access.

YouTube, the popular video-sharing portal, banned by a court order on May 5, 2008, was accessible to journalists working at the Rumeli Press Center. Not only that, but recently banned Web sites such as hadigayri.com and gabile.com – Turkey’s two largest gay and lesbian Web communities – were also freely available.

The latest ban was implemented last week on the online game “Farmville,” available on Facebook. The ban was passed on the grounds that the game involved gambling, but was lifted one day later.

When asked by a Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review reporter, the World Bank media team said they were unaware of the situation. "I am unfamiliar with the preparation discussions – that's a responsibility of our conference services team," said David Theis, the media manager of external affairs and corporate communications for the World Bank.

[HH] Double standards:

Foreign journalists who noted the discrepancy said the policy implies double standards. A Spanish journalist said he had heard colleagues discussing the issue during the conference. "I have heard some Web sites were banned [in Turkey], but initially could not really believe it. Turkey is a democratic country. That the ban exists is really unbelievable," he told the Daily News, but asked not to be named. He also noted that although the congress center allows free access to all Web sites, foreign journalists would find out about the ban when accessing the Internet from their hotels.

"Journalists will see the reality in their hotels anyway. This kind of a ban reflects much worse on the people who put up these barriers rather than those who try to access the Web sites. Most people know how to break these walls anyway," he said.

Chinese delegates at the meetings were also surprised at the arrangement. They noted bypassing banned Web sites is also possible in China through proxy sites. An American journalist said he had no time to test the limits of Internet access at the press center, but heard about certain Web sites being closed to public access in Turkey. "It all seems quite useless," he said.

In a written statement Wednesday, the Arı Movement, an Istanbul-based think tank asked why the government deems bans fitting for its citizens, but can grant concessions to foreigners.

“We call upon the government, Parliament, opposition parties and civil society to act,” said Ural Aküzüm, chairman of the movement. “The necessary regulations should be made as soon as possible and Turkey should be rescued from an appearance that does not fit this country.”

According to the “Turkey In Transit: Democratization in Turkey” report, Turkey ranked ninth among 15 countries in Internet freedom, ranking above Cuba, Tunisia, China, Iran, Russia and Egypt. Prepared by Freedom House and the Arı Movement, the report said Web site bans have become increasingly common in Turkey.

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