October 20, 2020

Turkish Government Finally Lifts Wikipedia Ban

More than two years ago, the Turkish government blocked all of Wikipedia under the dubious legal theory it was a “threat to national security.” A single offending article that linked the Turkish government to various terrorist organizations was the “threat” Turkey felt it couldn’t withstand.

Wikipedia challenged this blanket ban — which covered all of its domains, not just the Turkish version. It appealed the decision in Turkey and petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to declare the government’s ban a violation of free speech rights.

The ECHR seemed inclined to give Wikipedia what it asked for. But securing a win wouldn’t be enough to lift the ban. Turkey has routinely blown off ECHR verdicts, choosing to keep its human rights violations in place in exchange for periodic fines.

Unfortunately, for Recep Erdogan and his government, another decision was handed down that wasn’t so easily ignored. In late December of last year, the country’s top court ruled the ban was a violation of freedom of expression rights. It took a few weeks for the government to comply with the order, but the Wikimedia Foundation reports the ban has finally been lifted.

Today, on Wikipedia’s 19th birthday, the Wikimedia Foundation has received reports that access to Wikipedia in Turkey is actively being restored.* This latest development follows a 26 December 2019 ruling by the Constitutional Court of Turkey that the more than two and a half year block imposed by the Turkish government was unconstitutional. Earlier today, the Turkish Constitutional Court made the full text of that ruling available to the public, and shortly after, we received reports that access was restored to Wikipedia.

This win doesn’t mean Wikipedia is dropping its ECHR petition. Even if Turkey is unlikely to comply with an ECHR ruling, another declaration of access to Wikipedia as a basic human right will make it a little more difficult for the Turkish government to institute another ban the next time it’s offended.

So far, the security of the Turkish nation appears to be as intact as it ever was. Considering the government’s unimpaired access to any number of media outlets, it would seem the best thing the country could have done is fight Wikipedia’s speech with speech of its own. But that’s never enough for authoritarians like Recep Erdogan who use a great deal of their power to silence critics under the guise of securing the nation.
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