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ECtHR finds Wikimedia’s application against Turkey inadmissible

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The foundation running Wikipedia on Thursday lost its bid to sue Turkey over it blocking access to the online encyclopedia in the country, as Europe’s top rights court threw the case out, Agence France-Presse reported.

Ankara forced the website down in April 2017 over two pages that allegedly linked Turkish authorities to “terrorist” activities, titled “State-sponsored terrorism” and “Foreign involvement in the Syrian civil war.”

Turkey said it had to block access to all its pages, since the San Francisco-based Wikimedia Foundation was unable to remove access to individual pages.

It challenged the ban, but Turkish courts upheld it, leading Wikimedia to file a free speech complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in April 2019, even as it appealed to Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

That appeal succeeded in January 2020 when the Turkish court published a ruling finding Wikimedia’s freedom of expression had been violated, since authorities had failed to show any “pressing social need” to block the pages.

Turkey then lifted the ban and Wikimedia was awarded 2,732 lira ($184 at current exchange rates) to compensate for its legal expenses.

But Wikimedia argued to the European court that the delay for legal redress was excessive and amounted to a violation of its rights, a claim judges rejected in the ruling published Thursday.

“While this was a lengthy period it was not manifestly excessive, especially given what had been at stake in the case,” the court said.

And by granting Wikimedia’s request, Turkey’s Constitutional Court provided “appropriate and sufficient redress for the damage sustained,” meaning Wikimedia could no longer claim “victim” status.

Turkey has temporarily blocked access to social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter as well in recent years after events including mass protests and terrorist attacks and pressed ahead with controversial laws that are feared to introduce government censorship on social media.

The Turkish Parliament passed a law in 2020 requiring social media platforms that have more than 1 million users to maintain a legal representative and store data in the country. Major social media companies, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have since established offices in Turkey.

The new legislation makes the dissemination of “disinformation” and “fake news” criminal offenses punishable by up to five years in prison, according to pro-government media reports. It also establishes a social media regulator.

Most of Turkey’s major media companies are under the control of the government, leaving social media as an important outlet for dissenting voices.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 85 percent of the national media in Turkey is owned by pro-government businessmen who toe the official line.

Social media platforms such as Twitter provide a relatively freer venue for people in Turkey to express their views. These platforms have taken on much more importance in recent years as news sources because the majority of conventional media outlets are under the control of the government.

There has been a growing national and international outcry over perceived crackdowns on freedom of speech by the Turkish government, which is accused by many of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 153rd out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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