Internet freedom in Turkey remained highly restricted over the past year, which was characterized by increased self-censorship, a growing list of blocked news sites and sweeping arrests for criticizing military operations or the president, according to a report from Freedom House, a Washington-based pro-democracy group.
The report, which was released Tuesday, included 65 countries. Turkey is listed in the category of “Not Free” countries in terms of Internet freedom.
The report, titled “Freedom on the Net 2018,” covered developments between June 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018.
During the period covered the report said the country saw fewer instances of network shutdowns, which had denied Internet access to large swathes of the population during security operations in the Southeast; several news and citizen journalism websites were blocked; and Wikipedia remained inaccessible.
Turkey ranked among the countries with the highest number of content removal requests sent to Twitter and Facebook, as reported in the companies’ transparency reports, Freedom House noted.
Freedom House added that ongoing punishments for online speech and the government’s arbitrary and disproportionate purge of supposed critics had led to increasing self-censorship.
The report also criticized the arbitrary detention of over 50,000 Turkish citizens for their alleged use of the encrypted communications app ByLock after a coup attempt in 2016, while many others were fired from government, military, and private sector jobs in a massive purge.
“Courts ruled in September 2017 that possession of the app was legal grounds for linking individuals to the Gülen movement, which has been held responsible for the coup attempt. Subsequent forensics analyses demonstrated that several other popular applications used IP addresses and servers shared by ByLock. As a result, prosecutors stated in December 2017 that over 11,000 individuals had been incorrectly linked with using the app, resulting in their release from prison or their reinstatement to jobs from which they were fired.”
“The ByLock controversy also ensnared members of the human rights community. Taner Kılıç, the Turkey chair of Amnesty International, was detained in June 2017. The only known evidence in his case was the allegation that he had used ByLock, which he has denied. He was finally released in August 2018 after 14 months in prison.”
The Turkish government believes ByLock was the main communication tool among the followers of the Gülen movement. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed coup.