In a tweet, Turkey’s president has hit out at the government ban of Twitter, as opposition leaders vowed to mount a legal challenge to the measure that came just days ahead of crucial polls.
The popular micro-blogging site, one of several that has been used to publish allegations of corruption in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle, went dark in Turkey late on Thursday, just hours after the embattled leader threatened to “wipe out” the social network.
The move sparked outrage from the opposition and the European Union – which Ankara has long sought to join – as well as Erdogan’s own administration.
“technically possible to totally block access to platforms used all over the world.”]
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, a frequent user of social media, led the chorus of calls against the move.
“A complete ban on social media platforms cannot be approved,” he said, adding that it is not “technically possible to totally block access to platforms used all over the world”.
Opposition politician Aykan Erdemir said his party would take “legal action” against the ban, warning that the move would put Turkey into a league of undemocratic countries like China.
“This is an unbelievable violation of fundamental rights and freedoms,” Erdemir, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told AFP news agency.
‘Citizen’s rights violated’
European leaders said the move violated citizen’s rights to freedom of speech and could threaten Turkey’s bid to enter the 28-nation bloc.
Ankara is already the world’s top jailer of journalists, according to press freedom lobby group The Committee to Protect Journalists.
“The ban on the social platform Twitter.com in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said in a statement.
“Social media has a vital role to play in a modern democracy. As a candidate country, EU expects Turkey to promote the values of freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law,” tweeted Britain’s embassy in Turkey.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel tweeted that “in a free society it is up to citizens to decide how to communicate, not the state”.
The ban on Twitter is the latest in a series of moves by Erdogan’s government to tighten its control of the Internet that have included the banning of thousands of websites.
YouTube was banned for two years up to 2010 because of material deemed insulting to the country’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Early this month, Erdogan warned that his government could ban YouTube and Facebook after local polls, triggering concerns from its ally the United States.
“These measures are devastating to free expression and freedom of the media and they curbs citizens’ right to freely express themselves,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement on Friday.