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Twitter fights Turkey ban with lawsuit over political freedom of speech

Six days have passed since Turkey’s government blocked its citizens’ access to Twitter, and the network is now taking the country to court.

Twitter on Wednesday filed suit against the government over the wholesale ban. The network said the Turkish government’s reasons for silencing Twitter are grounded in three court orders, two of which are related to content that Twitter had already decided violated its own terms and conditions. That content has already been removed. Twitter also argued that Turkey never provided the company with those court orders before instituting the ban.

“The last order instructed us to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption,” Twitter’s general counsel Vijaya Gadde wrote in a Wednesday blog post. “This order causes us concern. Political speech is among the most important speech, especially when it concerns possible government corruption. That’s why today we have also petitioned the Turkish court on behalf of our users to reverse this order.”

While Twitter fights the court order on the offending account, they are using a tool they call Country Withheld Content to prevent Turkish residents from viewing the contested tweets. Citizens of other countries will still be able to see the content in question. This is the first time Twitter has withheld content in Turkey. The network partners with Chilling Effects to clarify information about Country Withheld Content and disclose as much information as the network can under the law.

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Twitter marks Country Withheld Content with messages like this one.

Turkey’s court sides with Twitter

Twitter provided Chilling Effects with documents detailing the order to remove the account that accused Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan of corruption. Erdogan’s campaign against social networks began with a YouTube video that appears to implicate him in a corruption scandal. Twitter users circulated a link to the video, and so the ban hammer came down on Twitter just prior to the country’s upcoming elections.

Turkey’s legal system is on Twitter’s side, the Hurriyet Daily News reported Wednesday. The country’s Ankara court issued a stay of execution on the ban, citing the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights’ protections for freedom of expression and communication.

“With positive developments today concerning judicial review of this disproportionate and illegal administrative act of access banning the whole of Twitter, we expect the government to restore access to Twitter immediately so that its citizens can continue an open online dialogue ahead of the elections to be held at the end of this week,” Gadde wrote.

If the government doesn’t abide by the court ruling, Turkish Twitter users will likely continue to use creative ways around the ban. Circumventing the block has become more difficult, as DNS workarounds were blocked and IP-level blocks were put in place. The anonymous browsing software Tor, VPNs, and SMS tweets are still reportedly workable options to bypass the ban.

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