Tonight, Prime Minister Erdoğan has taken the state repression of Turkey’s citizens’ freedom of speech to a whole new level. Around 11:30PM the news started to spread like wildfire: Twitter has been shut down! Only a few hours earlier, during a campaign rally for the upcoming municipal elections in the western city of Bursa, Erdoğan had declared to a crowd of AKP-supporters that he was determined to shut down the social media platform. “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” he stated in his typical authoritarian fashion.
Only weeks before, on March 6, the prime minister had already threatened to shut down Facebook and Youtube. These mediums had been used to share and spread the leaked telephone calls between himself and his son Bilal discussing how to “zero-out” the millions of dollars of stolen cash they had hidden at their homes. But after statements by the country’s president Abdullah Gül, who said that “their closure is out of the question,” the people took Erdoğan’s rhetoric for just that, rhetoric. Noone expected this blatant closure of one of the country’s main communication systems.
Twitter is not only used by the opposition, both within and outside of the political arena, but also by the country’s leading duo, Gül and Erdoğan, who both have over four million followers. Despite their strong social media presence, the prime minister apparently felt threatened by what he himself termed a “robot lobby” which he in late February accused of targeting the government through Twitter messages.
With this latest move Erdoğan seems to have finally and definitely lost it. Last week, only days after the funeral of young Berkin Elvan – a 15-year old boy who died after having spent nine months in a coma because he was shot in the head with a tear gas canister by the police during the Gezi protests – Erdoğan had accused the boy of being a member of a terrorist organization. These hate inciting and utterly ridiculous remarks were enough reason for the Turkish Doctor’s Association, the TTB, to release a press statement in which they collectively expressed their concern over the state of Erdoğan’s mental health. “We are doctors. We know human beings and the status of their minds from the inside and outside. We are concerned with the mental state of PM Erdoğan. We are deeply concerned!”, the statement read.
Ever since millions took to the streets in the context of the Gezi protests last summer, the spirit of dissent has never left the collective imagination. Tens of thousands of people in Turkey continue to publicly voice their anger with the current government on a monthly, if not weekly basis. Large protests have rocked the country: protests against the destruction of the forest at Ankara’s ODTÜ-campus; against the building of Istanbul’s third bridge; against the new internet law; against the country’s corrupt ruling elites; in memory of young Berkin Elvan; and against the increasingly authoritarian rule of the AKP government in general.
The closure of Twitter is only the latest attempt by the AKP to crack down all voices of dissent. In a country which jails more journalists than any other country in the world, the freedom of speech provided by online social media platforms was like taking a breath of fresh air amidst the toxic fumes of the increasingly authoritarian neoliberal and consumerist swamp Turkey has turned into.
The closure of Twitter is made possible by a new internet law that places extra-judicial powers with the Communications Technologies Institution (BTK) which now has the power to close down websites within a few hours within a court ruling. However, the people of Turkey have proven to be as defiant online as they are on the streets, and the reports of the closing down of Twitter were followed closely by links to VPN services and DNS servers that could be used to circumvent the ban.
With the municipal elections only ten days away, tensions are rising high in Turkey. There is a lot at stake, with the local polls being viewed as a good indicator of the level of support AKP still enjoys after all the unrest and the violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters in the past few months. If AKP were to lose in some of the major cities, with Istanbul being the most likely candidate for a defeat of the ruling party, Erdoğan’s iron grip on the party’s inner rulings might start to be questioned by his own subjects. Desperate needs lead to desperate deeds, but with every move he makes Erdoğan is in danger of losing more supporters, more credibility and more authority. This latest attempt at cracking down on anyone who dares to disagree with the sultan will not hurt the resistance movement as much as he intends because it has been accustomed to working with proxies, VPN’s and Tor networks for as long as the internet has been around in Turkey. If it would do one thing only, it would serve the purpose of those who are fighting against the state and its oppressive apparatus in exposing the true face of a dictator in the making. Bu daha başlangıç mücadeleye devam!