Turkish academics threaten Twitter with legal action

Two professors send notice to US company saying they will take legal action if Twitter keeps blocking tweets in Turkey.

Twitter Turkey
In the past, Turkish officials repeatedly blamed Twitter for not implementing Turkish court rulings [Reuters]

Two Turkish academics have sent a legal notice to Twitter, warning the US social media company to stop blocking individual accounts and tweets in Turkey.

In the notice filed through lawyers on Tuesday, and made public on Friday, Assistant Professor Kerem Altiparmak and Professor Yaman Akdeniz said they would “take all possible forms of legal action in both Turkey and the United States” if Twitter continues its practices.

The notice was sent a day after the government proposed a new law to strengthen its control over the internet by attempting to reintroduce some elements of legislation annulled by the country’s top court last year.

Altiparmak and Akdeniz’s notice provides examples of alleged rights violations in Turkish court orders restricting internet access which, according to the academics, have no legal basis.

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Altiparmak told Al Jazeera that Twitter, a company based in the US with no registered offices in Turkey, was as a result not subject to Turkish law and did not need to take into account court orders violating freedoms.

“Legally, our respondent is the Twitter headquarters in the US. However, they [Twitter] have a corporate lawyer in Turkey,” he said.

“Therefore, we have sent our legal notice to the lawyer and the company’s legal representatives.”

Turkey has been acting to sharpen national legislation on the internet after the 2013-2014 online leaks of illegal phone recordings that allegedly document corruption in state tenders and bribery involving the Turkish government and circles close to it.

Constitutional Court rulings

In March 2014, Akdeniz and Altiparmak filed individual applications to the Constitutional Court, the highest court in Turkey, against a court order that blocked Twitter.

The court found in April 2014 that general blocking of Twitter from Turkey was a “heavy violation” of the right to freedom of expression and “had no legal basis”.

The court gave a similar judgement on blocking of YouTube in May 2014.

The constitutional court’s rulings legally established that it was not possible to issue orders blocking websites as a whole in Turkey.

Listening Post discusses 2014 Twitter ban in Turkey

Altiparmak told Al Jazeera that Twitter’s “country withheld content” policy, which was implemented after talks with the government in 2014, restricts the freedom of expression and, in some cases, the freedom of press.

“Twitter implements court orders and blocks individual accounts and tweets in Turkey as part of its [country withheld content] policy, but keeps them open globally,” he said.

“While doing that they do not look into the content of the court orders, which are arbitrary, provide no legal reasoning and are very much against freedom of expression.

“Turkey’s newly formed criminal judgeships of peace work as the notaries of the government, issuing court orders to block Twitter accounts and individual web pages.”

The judgeships were formed in June 2014 as part of the recent changes made in the Turkish legal system by the government.

Twitter’s lawyer in Turkey, contacted by Al Jazeera, did not want to comment on the issue.

The communications department at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco could not be reached by phone and an email inquiry was not replied to by the company.

Government criticism

In the past, Turkish officials repeatedly blamed Twitter for not implementing Turkish court rulings and not recognising the Turkish legal system.

“If Twitter had abided by the court rulings and closed down those specific links, this would not happen,” Burhan Kuzu, a senior member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, told Al Jazeera, commenting on the blocking of Twitter in March 2014 before Twitter began blocking individual tweets and accounts.

“There are thousands of tweets and individual web pages blocked in Turkey. When Twitter was blocked as a whole, it was possible to file a legal suit,” Altiparmak said, referring to the Constitutional Court ruling on the issue.

“With these new courts and individual blocking, we are unable to create legal arguments against these violations. Nor is it possible to monitor thousands of blocking orders.”

In another verdict in October 2014, the Constitutional Court annulled parts of Turkish law on the internet that gives telecommunications authority the power to order the blocking of a URL without a court order and urged the order to be carried out by internet service providers within four hours.

RELATED: Q&A – Tackling Twitter in Turkey

A new bill, which is expected to be discussed in parliament next week, proposes to provide Turkish ministers with the same power.

According to the bill, ministers will be able to issue web-access blocking orders to web pages without court orders “to protect the safety of an individual’s life and property, to protect the national interest and public safety, to prevent perpetuation of crimes and to protect general health”.

The blocking of access would be carried out within four hours and a court order would be sought 24 hours after the minister’s order.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

Source: Al Jazeera