Twitter blocks journalist's Turkish tweets from being viewed in his home country

While Twitter has refused a court order to block journalist Mahir Zeynalov's English-language tweets, the account he uses to communicate with Turkish speakers has been restricted in his home country.

'It is disappointing to see that Twitter is complicit with the Turkish government,' reporter says

Following a court order from Turkey, Twitter says it will not block journalist Mahir Zeynalov's account in English. But his Turkish account will be blocked. He says it was the only channel in which he could reach out to people in Turkey. (@MahirZeynalov/Twitter)

While Twitter has refused a court order to block journalist Mahir Zeynalov's English-language tweets, the account he uses to communicate with Turkish speakers has been restricted in his home country.

Zeynalov, a journalist who was deported from Turkey in 2014 for "posting tweets against high-level state officials," received notice last week that his Twitter page was on a list of websites and social media accounts the Turkish government wants blocked within the country for "promoting terrorism, violence, and threatening national security and public order." 

The Washington, D.C.-based reporter uses his two accounts — one in English and one in Turkish — to chronicle the Turkish government's crackdown on dissidents in the wake of this summer's failed coup. 

Zeynalov received notification Thursday from Twitter that his Turkish account would be blocked from view within Turkey under the country's 2007 Internet Act, which allows government to block access to online content it believes could incite criminal activity. Also called Law 5651, it has come under scrutiny from digital rights organizations and the European Court of Human Rights

"Turkey first kicked me out of the country. Then shut down my newspaper. And now [it] forced Twitter to block my only channel in which I was reaching out to people in Turkey," Zeynalov said. 

"It is a concerted effort to make sure that critical voices don't offer alternative views. And it is disappointing to see that Twitter is complicit with the Turkish government."

Twitter may fight court order

The notice Zeynalov received from the company says Twitter is "evaluating our legal options" to fight the court order, according to a translation. 

Asked for comment, Twitter pointed CBC News to its  "country withheld content" policy.

"With hundreds of millions of Tweets posted every day around the world, our goal is to respect our users' expression, while also taking into consideration applicable local laws. Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to tweets and/or Twitter account content," the policy reads.

"In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time."

But Eva Galperin, global policy analyst with digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, previously told CBC News the company is under no obligation to comply with local laws in countries like Turkey, where it has no offices or employees.

Refusing to comply with Ankara's demands to block Twitter feeds of journalists should be their guiding principle — not something they do under fire.- Mahir Zeynalov'

Zeynalov received word of his Turkish account's restrictions on the same day Twitter told CBC News it would not block his English account within Turkey or anywhere else — a decision that came on the heels of widespread backlash from journalists and free speech advocates.

"Twitter's decision not to block my account would be good news if it sets precedent for other cases in which accounts of other Turkish journalists are withheld," Zeynalov said. 

"It is very obvious that Twitter made an exception in my case due to tremendous pressure from my colleagues and press advocacy groups. Refusing to comply with Ankara's demands to block Twitter feeds of journalists should be their guiding principle — not something they do under fire."

Censorship in Turkey 

Turkey, which has arrested tens of thousands of people and shut unfriendly media outlets since the coup attempt, asks Twitter to remove content more often than any other country in the world, according to Twitter's transparency report.

Twitter received 2,493 court orders and other legal requests from Turkish authorities to remove content between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2016, and complied in 23 per cent of those cases. 

On Wednesday, the Toronto Star ran a front-page story from Canadian Paul Wells detailing his decision to deactivate his own Twitter account in solidarity with Zeynalov.

On Thursday, before news about Zeynalov's Turkish account surfaced, he said he's not planning to reactivate his account any time soon.

"I'm pleased they're off Zeynalov's back, but Turkey has felt quite free to ask Twitter for account blocks lately, which means it's not only about Zeynalov. I'd be pleased to see a strong statement of general policy from Twitter on comparable matters," he said.

Paul Wells quit Twitter in solidarity with Mahir Zeynalov. In a front-page Toronto Star column, he wrote: 'Until Twitter makes it clear that it has the back of Zeynalov and other public truth-tellers, it cannot credibly protest that its users have to put up with brigades of anonymous liars.' (Newseum )

About the Author

Sheena Goodyear

Sheena Goodyear is an online journalist for CBC News. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, her work has appeared in Sun Media, the Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star, VICE News and more.

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