Turkey watchers spent much of last Friday piling on the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) for their decision late Thursday to ban Twitter – Erdogan’s exact phrase was that he was going to “eradicate” the microblogging service – amid widespread and successful citizen efforts to circumvent the new restrictions.
The move was widely seen as an effort to both stifle discussion of a massive graft scandal that in recent months has ensnared Erdogan and his family alongside a number of other AKP elites. Turkey’s Zaman bluntly summed up the global reaction under the headline “Ban on Twitter criticized around the world.”
“It’s cutting down freedom of speech — a value we’re so proud of in the free world. He’s going in the wrong direction. What we have to do is put it in plain language that it’s not acceptable,” said [European Commissioner for Digital Agenda] Kroes.
Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle also issued a statement on Friday, saying that “the ban on the social platform Twitter.com in Turkey raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards. Freedom of expression, a fundamental right in any democratic society, includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.”
Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, described the gambit as a “massive political error” and asked whether Erdogan would relent before upcoming March 30 local elections.
The Times of London‘s Turkey correspondent, Alex Christie-Miller, noted that Ankara had “accrued all the stigma and embarrassment of banning Twitter, without the intended effect of stifling information,” concluding that the effort was a “[t]errible move.”
Turkey expert Michael Koplow rhetorically asked if Erdogan had “ever done anything that has backfired so spectacularly” and suggested that the Islamist leader’s “sterling political instincts have disappeared.” Koplow more extensively emphasized that “[g]overnments that ban social media platforms under the flimsy justification of them being national security threats are not democracies.”
[Photo: euronews / YouTube]