Human rights commissioner says Turkey’s blocking of Wikipedia a violation of freedom of expression

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Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic on Monday submitted her written observations to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerning a dispute between Wikipedia, a collaborative online encyclopedia, and Turkey, which blocked access to the website, saying that blocking Wikipedia is a violation of freedom of expression.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the main non-profit company providing Wikipedia service, has accused Turkey of restricting the freedom of expression secured under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Commissioner sees the ongoing blocking of access to Wikipedia as forming part of a broader pattern of undue restrictions on the right to receive and impart information on the internet, and more generally as an illustration of the disproportionately heavy-handed approach currently prevailing in Turkey to any content or information the Turkish authorities consider offensive,” a statement issued by Mijatovic’s office said.

“Commissioner Mijatovic concludes that the way Turkish administrative authorities and courts routinely have recourse to internet blocking is unacceptable in a democratic society and not compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects freedom of expression.”

“The systemic nature of the problem requires far-reaching measures, including the complete overhaul of the relevant Turkish legislation,” said the commissioner.

Ankara had requested that Wikipedia remove an article on the website claiming that Turkey sponsored terrorism during the Syrian civil war.

Normally, the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (BTK) has the authority to ban access to a certain URL instead of cutting access to the entire website; however, Wikipedia’s web script does not allow that.

Therefore, the BTK banned Wikipedia in Turkey on April 29, 2017, a decision that was challenged by the Wikimedia Foundation at a Turkish court, which rejected the appeal.

Wikimedia Foundation, after exhausting domestic remedies in Turkey, applied to ECtHR in April.

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