Turkey’s courts blocked access to Twitter late on Thursday (March 20), just days before elections as Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, battles a corruption scandal that has seen social media platforms awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing.
The ban came hours after a defiant Erdogan, on the campaign trail ahead of key March 30 local elections, vowed to “wipe out” Twitter and said he did not care what the international community had to say about it.
Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet controls, handed government more influence over the courts, and reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges as it fights a corruption scandal he has cast as a plot by political enemies to oust him.
Telecoms watchdog BTK said that the social media platform had been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that it was breaching privacy.
It said Twitter had ignored previous requests to remove content.
“Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimization of citizens,” it said.
San Francisco-based Twitter said it was looking into the matter but had not issued a formal statement.
The company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.
“Twitter, mwitter!,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at a rally late on Thursday, in a phrase translating roughly as “Twitter, schmitter!”.
“We will wipe out all of these,” said Erdogan, who has cast the corruption scandal as part of a smear campaign by his political enemies.
“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he said in a characteristically unyielding tone.
Twitter users in Turkey began reporting widespread outages overnight.
Some users trying to open the Twitter.com website were taken to a statement apparently from another regulator (TIB) citing four court orders as the basis for the ban.
“We are resembling the Arab countries. Turkey’s future is not bright. We cannot even talk to people on the street about this issue. This is not good for the country”, said Istanbul resident Doga Satir.
Another resident of Istanbul, Fahir Karabel, said that the public would always find a way to voice their opinions.
“Congratulations to him. What else can I say? He cannot prevent this by blocking a website. No matter how hard he tries, people will always find their ways, they will always find an open door”, he said.
Aylin Vural, a resident of Istanbul, said despite the ban, nothing would change,
“I am a twitter user for a very long time. It is now blocked because people were sharing their opinions there. He thinks we cannot criticize him if he shuts down twitter but our struggle will continue. Nothing will change despite the ban”, she said.
The corruption investigation became public on Dec. 17 when police detained the sons of three cabinet ministers and businessmen close to Erdogan.
The three ministers resigned a week later, while others were removed in a cabinet reshuffle.
At an extraordinary session on Wednesday (March 19), the Parliament Speaker blocked opposition pleas to have a prosecutor’s report with allegations against the former ministers read out.
A document purporting to be that report appeared on Twitter last week.
It included alleged transcripts of wiretapped phone conversations, pictures from physical surveillance and pictures of official documents accusing the former ministers and two of their sons of involvement with an Iranian businessman in a bribery and smuggling racket.
Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the document.
Turkish Internet users were quick to come up with ways to circumvent the block. The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly moved among the top trending globally.
The disruption sparked a virtual uproar, with many comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled.
Erdogan said two weeks ago that Turkey could also ban Facebook and YouTube, which he says have been abused by his enemies after a stream of audio recordings purportedly revealing corruption in his inner circle emerged online.
But a senior official said on Friday (March 21) there were no immediate plans to do so.