Turkey seeks to tighten clampdown on Twitter

Source: SUZAN FRASER,The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey—Turkish authorities were seeking to tighten a clampdown on Twitter on Saturday after social media users easily evaded the government’s attempt to block access to the service, where links to wiretapped recordings suggesting corruption have been posted, causing the government major embarrassment before local elections on March 30.

The government’s effort to shut down the service backfired on Friday, with many finding ways to continue to tweet and mock the government for what they said was a futile attempt at censorship. The website’s suppression sparked a tide of international criticism.

Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, said Twitter had begun on Saturday to close down accounts which the Turkish government has been complaining about, but the report couldn’t immediately be verified.

Government officials said Friday they were engaged in talks with Twitter and would restore access as soon as an agreement with the company is reached. Twitter said it hoped the crisis would be resolved soon. The government accuses Twitter of refusing to remove offensive content despite Turkish court orders.

On Saturday, news reports and users said the clampdown was expanded to Google’s Domain Name System, which had provided many of Twitters millions of Turkish users an alternative means of gaining entry. Still, Turkish users seemed to come out ahead in the cat-and-mouse game, working around that ban too. One Twitter account, behind the leaks that have embarrassed the government, on Saturday posted photographs of what it claimed were officials taking bribes.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt used Twitter on Saturday to tell Turkey its efforts to block access to the social media network were “stupid.” He said the blockade “isn’t working and also backfiring heavily.”

Lutfi Elvan, the communications minister, defended Turkey’s ban on Saturday saying: “whether it’s Twitter, Yahoo or Google, all social media companies have to obey the laws of the Turkish Republic and they will.” Turkey had made 643 content removal requests to Twitter since Jan. 1, he said without elaborating.

Turkey blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of the website over tweets that have proliferated with links to recordings that appear to incriminate him and other top officials in corruption. In one recording a man believed to be Erdogan is heard instructing his son to get rid of vast amounts of cash from a home amid a police graft probe. In others — some of which Erdogan has acknowledged — he is heard berating media executives for unfavourable coverage or pressing for the dismissal of critical journalists.

Erdogan says most of the leaked recordings are fabricated and insists he is a victim of a plot orchestrated by followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who want to discredit the government before the elections that are widely seen as a referendum on the government’s rule.