WordPress Blocked in Turkey

Reports (here, here) indicate that WordPress.com, in its entirety, has been blocked in Turkey. People trying to visit the website get the following message: "Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance." The founding developer of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, began writing about the situation last week on his personal blog, and he received a letter on Saturday night from a Turkish attorney representing Mr. Adnan Oktar, who apparently is a Turkish national and the author of books written under the pen name Harun Yahya. Mr. Oktar's attorney claims that another Turkish national, Edip Yuksel, started a number of WordPress blogs dedicated to defaming his client. The attorney says that he sent a number of letters complaining about the alleged defamatory statements to the WordPress legal department and apparently to Matt personally. According to the letter, he then brought the matter before a Turkish court, which granted Mr. Oktar's request to block access to WordPress.com in Turkey. The letter demands that WordPress "remove and prohibit any blogs in [its] site that contain my client's name Adnan Oktar or his pen name Harun Yahya or various combinations of these 4 names."

WordPress has not taken any action yet. Matt has posted the entire letter on the website and asked the community for advice on how to proceed. The letter and the comments from WordPress users are fascinating. Apparently, Mr. Oktar is an Islamic creationist whose group is mounting a anti-evolution campaign in Turkey and abroad. Mr. Yuksel is a self-described "Islamic Reformer" who is critical of Mr. Oktar and his movement. One of the blog posts complained about in the attorney's letter is in English -- it is worth a look if you want to better understand the kinds of statements at issue.

It's tough to say what, if anything, WordPress can do with respect to Turkish law. It would be a good idea to contact a Turkish media lawyer.

It is worth noting, however, that, under US law, WordPress likely could not be held liable for the statements of its users because of Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, which provides that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Thus, under US law, WordPress could make the decision whether or not to remove the complained-of blog posts based on its own assessment of whether or not these posts comply with its Terms of Use, not based on fear of liability. There is no provision in US law for disabling an entire blog-hosting site because of the allegedly defamatory statements of a user or group of users, and an overbroad order of this kind would violate the First Amendment.

This is not the first time that a Turkish court has ordered access to an entire website blocked. According to the Open Net Initiative:

On March 7, 2007, the video-sharing Web site Youtube was blocked in Turkey as per a court order, following the posting of certain videos on the site that were found to be derogatory toward Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish people in general, and the Turkish flag. The blocking invoked Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, known as the main obstacle to freedom of speech, which defines insults toward Ataturk as well as "Turkishness" as a crime. Turkey’s leading ISP, Turk Telecom, complied with the order but petitioned to the court to allow access to the site to be restored. The court agreed on the condition that the particular videos were removed. The two-day blocking was heavily criticized both within Turkey and abroad and likened to "closing a library because of a single book that was found to be improper."

It's a shame to see that a Turkish court has granted another overbroad injunction, especially since the order appears to have been granted ex parte. Perhaps Turk Telecom will come to the rescue again, but for now WordPress bloggers and their audience in Turkey will have to endure this worrisome curtailment of speech.

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Comments

Defamation and insults

Defamation rests on falsehoods potentially damaging to a person's reputation. Unfortunately sometimes lawsuits do have to be carried out to remedy defamation. To most U. S. citizens, I think, curtailing the freedom of speech of thousands of persons who've never even heard of the person allegedly defamed, on account of another person's supposed action of defamation, is very wrong. I imagine that it seems very wrong to the majority of Turkish citizens, too.

Insults are another matter entirely. Every day in the U. S. the country and many of its prominent citizens, including those entrusted with running its government, receive thousands of insults, sometimes even from members of Congress. This is not punishable.

To make it illegal to insult anyone or anything, including "national-ness," is, to my mind, to act about as contrary to individual liberty as one can, short of false imprisonment, torture, etc. I believe that is the most serious issue here -- not to shortchange the very serious issue of blocking an entire website because of one allegedly hurtful element within it.

Re: Anything new?

Discussion about this issue has quieted down in the blogosphere, but some quick research suggests to me that WordPress is still blocked in its entirety in Turkey. There have been some developments:

  • Mr. Oktar's lawyers released a new "press release," which Matt Mullenweg commented upon on his personal blog.

Thanks for your interest.

A few months ago Turkey

A few months ago Turkey blocked youtube.com as someone uploaded a video defaming Mustafa Kemal Ataturk until the video was removed by youtube. All this shows how vulnerable the internet, its users and therefore the economy can be. Very interesting article.