Twitter remains blocked in Turkey despite court ruling lifting ban


A Turkish national flag with the word 'offline' projected on it, is seen through a Twitter logo in this photo illustration taken in Zenica, March 21, 2014.  (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

A Turkish court granted a stay on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Twitter ban Wednesday. But the service appears to remain inaccessible to most users in Turkey not using circumvention techniques, and it remains unclear just when the block will be lifted.

The ruling came in response to a complaint filed in Ankara by Turkey’s Bar Association and its journalists’ union. According to the local Hurriyet Daily News, the court's ruling stated "that the ban of the entire website was contrary to the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights, as it restricted the freedom of expression and communication."

The ban was implemented on Friday, hours after Erdogan threatened to wipe out the service in Turkey. Although it was strengthened over the weekend, Turkish users used anonymous browsing tool Tor, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other services to stay connected to the social media platform.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the order will be respected, according to Reuters. "We abide by the court rulings, that's what the constitution orders. We may not like them, but we abide by them," Arinc told reporters in televised comments.

But it remains unclear when the ban will be lifted. The government has 30 days to implement the order rolling back the ban, said Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, who has helped file legal challenges to the ban. The government could move quicker, if it wanted to, he said, "if they are capable of executing the blocking decisions immediately then they should be able to lift it swiftly, too."

But if the government takes the full 30 days,  the block will remain in effect during upcoming local elections.

Akdeniz along with Kerem Altıparmak, a political science professor at Ankara University, applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) asking for an immediate injunction against the ban Wednesday morning before the Ankara ruling came out.

"There are only 5 days left until the local elections. It is of dire importance that the European Court of Human Rights issue an injunction within 24 hours," they wrote. "If the decision is postponed to a date after the elections, irreparable damage will result and any information shared after that date will not have the same value and impact.”

Akdeniz says he was surprised at the speed with which the administrative court in Ankara returned a ruling, but believes the ECHR case remains important because "there is no effective legal remedy under national law."

Traffic analysis experts contacted by The Washington Post say that it appears Twitter remains blocked within the country. Internet monitoring firm Renesys says it has yet to see any changes from the earlier blocking status quo. Akdeniz, who is based in Istanbul, also confirmed that he and others are currently unable to access Twitter from Turkey without using circumvention tools.

Twitter, meanwhile, has become more vocal about the situation facing users in Turkey. In a blog post Wednesday, General Counsel Vijaya Gadde said there was "no legal grounds" for the service to be blocked, and that Twitter has also petitioned local courts for its end. In light of the court ruling, the company asked the Turkish government to "immediately" restore access to Twitter "so that its citizens can continue an open online dialogue ahead of the elections to be held at the end of this week."

But the company also said it is using its Country Withheld Content system to restrict access to an account spreading allegations of political corruption within Erdogan's party that was among the cases cited by the government to justify the ban while the dispute works its way through the legal system.

However, this barrier appears to be relatively easy to overcome. By changing their country settings to anywhere other than Turkey, users can have access to the withheld content. For Turkish Twitter users who have proved they can evade DNS redirects and IP level blocks, it seems like a relatively easy issue to overcome.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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