Turkey blocks Wikipedia, alleging smear campaign

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Turkish Wikipedia logo.
Image: Erdall.

Saturday morning, at 8:00 a.m. local time (0500 UTC), residents of Turkey who tried to view Wikipedia in any language received only a "connection timed out" screen. According to watchdog group Turkey Blocks, this was not a technical issue but rather the Turkish government barring access to the crowdsourced encyclopedia under a law stipulating it can block websites that contain obscenities or threats to national security.

Just hours later, roughly 3900 officials, scholars, clerks, prison guards, and other employees suspected of being anti-government were fired.

Turkey Blocks logo.
Image: Isik5.

The Turkish government has allegedly previously blocked international websites such as Facebook and Twitter, often after militant attacks or other unpopular events, but has blamed the "outages" on overload from users seeking information. The government did not immediately claim credit for blocking access to Wikipedia, as such, but the Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Ministry said access will be restored if Wikipedia removes some content claiming the Turkish government is working with militant groups and issued a statement to the state-run Andalou news agency: "Instead of coordinating against terrorism, [Wikipedia] has become part of an information source which is running a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena."

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, from file, 2017.
Image: US State Department.

Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson Juliet Barbara told NPR, "We are committed to ensuring that Wikipedia remains available to the millions of people who rely on it in Turkey. To that end, we are actively working with outside counsel to seek judicial review of the decision affecting access to Wikipedia. We hope the issue can be resolved promptly."

The government did publicly announce the firings, stating that everyone dismissed was suspected of associating with "terrorist organisations and structures presenting a threat to national security" and it has connected recent similar actions to the failed coup in the country last year.

This is the second political purge to take place since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was granted considerable additional powers after the April 16 constitutional referendum.

The Turkish government also banned televised dating shows, stating "such programmes in which people are introduced to find a friend[...] cannot be permitted."


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