Erdogan in new attack on social media after Twitter ban


(AFP) – Turkey’s defiant Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a blistering new attack on social media on Sunday after his government banned Twitter just days before crucial local elections.

“I cannot understand how sensible people still defend Facebook, YouTube and  Twitter. They run all kinds of lies,” he declared at an election rally.
His fresh diatribe came shortly after President Abdullah Gul voiced hope  the government would soon lift the Twitter ban, which has been roundly  condemned as a bid to muzzle a widening corruption scandal dogging the  government.
“I believe this problem will be over soon,” Gul told reporters.
“This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as  Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the  European Union.”
The conflicting comments underscore what appears to be a growing gulf  between the two men before Turks vote in local elections on March 30.
Erdogan also lashed out on Sunday at Facebook and YouTube which he has also  threatened to ban after the polls, accusing them of advocating freedom  selectively across the globe.
“Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have to respect the Turkish republic’s  laws,” he said. “Turkey is not a banana republic.”
He said Twitter abided by national laws in countries such as the United  States, Britain, China and Russia but that when it came to countries such as  Turkey or Egypt “Twitter talks about freedom”.
Erdogan is seen by critics as increasingly authoritarian after his  Islamic-rooted government introduced curbs on the Internet and tightened its  control on the judiciary in the wake of the graft probe that has ensnared  members of his inner circle.
Social media networks have been flooded almost daily with recordings  allegedly showing Erdogan talking with his son about hiding vast sums of money  and interfering in court cases, business deals and media coverage.
Erdogan has dismissed the recordings as “vile” fakes concocted by his  political rivals, including US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, once a staunch  ally.
“If the US president’s phone recordings go online, will Twitter, YouTube  and Facebook say it is freedom?” he said Sunday.
Erdogan, who has been in power for 11 years, said he was obliged to act to  counter “any attack threatening my country’s security”.
“If Twitter acts honestly, we are ready to support it. If YouTube acts  honestly, we are ready to give every support. If Facebook gives up  immoralities… it will receive support,” he added.
The government said Twitter had failed to abide by hundreds of court orders  to remove content deemed illegal.
In the run-up to the elections, Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and  Development Party (AKP) are also struggling to shake off the after-effects of  mass anti-government protests last year that were organised partly on Twitter,  prompting Erdogan to label the site a “menace”.
“Blocking access to Twitter is the work of a government which is losing its  self-confidence and strength,” veteran journalist Kadri Gursel wrote in the  Milliyet newspaper.
The ban has added to concern among rights groups and Turkey’s Western  allies about basic freedoms and rights in a country that has jailed more  reporters than any other country, including serial offenders Iran, China and  Eritrea.
Douglas Frantz, assistant secretary of public affairs at the US State  Department, described the Twitter ban as “21st-century book burning” and said  it should be reversed.
“A friend like Turkey has nothing to fear in the free-flow of ideas and  even criticism represented by Twitter,” he wrote in an official blog.
Frustrated Turks have been able to access the US-based site by tweeting via  text message or tweaking their Internet settings. Methods include changing  their domain name system (DNS) settings or using a virtual private network  (VPN).
But since Saturday there have been unconfirmed reports the government is  trying to block access to lists of alternative DNS numbers.
Gul, a frequent social media user, took to Twitter on Friday to denounce  the ban.
The president, who co-founded the AKP with Erdogan, has emerged as a more  conciliatory leader than the Turkish premier.
But he also drew criticism last month for signing a controversial  AKP-sponsored law to tighten government control over the Internet.
Gul said Sunday it was “not legally possible” in Turkey to shut down the  Internet or access to platforms such as Twitter.
He also confirmed that Twitter had hired a lawyer in Turkey for  negotiations with the authorities.