Turkish politics, unfortunately, have become too much familiar with “tape wars.” Tapes and videos, almost all recorded illegally, are leaked to the Internet to harm political opponents and the perpetrators almost always remain unknown.
A recent “battle” between the supporters of the Fethullah Gülen Movement and the government has been no exception. Both sides have been using social media as a battleground, and various recordings and documents – the most recent ones being phone conversations of Fethullah Gülen and a document that allegedly showed the National Intelligence Agency’s (MİT) role in the killing of three Kurdish women in Paris
last year – have been published on the Internet since the launch of a graft probe on Dec. 17.
The opposition was the first victim of leaks onto the internet. The Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) 10 senior politicians resigned in May, 2011 when a website published videos allegedly showing the politicians with their mistresses. Deniz Baykal, then –leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was forced to resign when a similar tape about him was leaked in May, 2010.
As efforts to shape politics through tapes continue, the Turkish government is trying to justify its latest move to increase control over the Internet by saying that it aims to “protect private life.”
Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan told a parliamentary commission the current law is insufficient to prevent the violation of private life. According to the draft that was modified yesterday in the commission meeting, access to content that violates personal privacy will be blocked without a court decision, but it will be allowed if a court decision does not follow in 48 hours.
It is no secret the government and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have had a complicated relationship with the Internet. The party widely uses it, especially in the social media where the AKP reportedly has thousands of “militant accounts,” to promote the party and sometimes harshly attack its critics. But when it comes to criticism against the party, the social media is a “menace,” as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
put it during the Gezi protests.
And the AKP is no frontier on the protection of private lives, either. At the time the MHP tapes were leaked to the Internet, Prime Minister Erdoğan did not hesitate to slam the opposition. “Is he with his own wife that we call it private? This not private, it is public. This is public immorality, nothing more,” he said in 2011, without questioning the source of the leak, which is still unknown to date.
The same prime minister, however, changed his tune when his party was the victim of the “tape wars.”
“The plot [against the government] is similar to the one against Baykal,” he said on Dec. 25, 2013, when footage of his ministers and relatives appeared online. “If we do not react to this plot, the ugly games being played on Turkey will continue,” he added.
While the government takes precautions to immediately act in case the tapes turn against it, illegal recordings are not the sole problem Internet users in Turkey face. Thousands of websites, most as a “precaution” without a court ruling, are banned in the country.
In the meantime, 40 users of Ekşi Sözlük, one of Turkey’s most popular websites that publishes user-contributed content, and its owner Sedat Kapanoğlu, are on trial for “publicly degrading religious values” for their critical articles on God, Prophet Mohammed, heaven, hell, Quran, Bible, and Jesus, facing prison terms of up to 1.5 years. The prosecutor acted on a complaint from Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, a staunch enemy of evolution and anything related to it.
In addition, hundreds of people face prosecution for their activities on social media during the Gezi protests – not surprisingly, not a single one is an AKP supporter.
The internet would be a lovely place if everyone could only access the content they agree to. Until then, we are lucky to have a government that knows exactly what we need to know.