Richard Dawkins website blocked in Turkey

According to Turkish posters on the Richarddawkins.net forum (via), the site has been blocked in Turkey. People trying to reach the site from the country are faced with a single line of text reading: Access to this site has been denied by court order.

Speculation on the site is that the ban relates to this post, from Reuters, noting that Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar had been sentenced to three years in prison for creating an illegal organization for personal gain. Oktar has a history of bringing legal action against his online critics, including forcing the closure of Ateizm.org and convincing a Turkish court to block internet access to WordPress.com.

Turkey Blocks DailyMotion

After blocking access to YouTube for the past three months, Turkish authorities have now turned their attention (via) on the Paris based Dailymotion.

Transport minister Binali Yildirim said YouTube was still blocked because those responsible for the site refused to cooperate with the Internet regulatory authority, Internet Iletisim Baskanligi, an offshoot of the Telecommunications Council that was founded in November 2007.

“The conditions imposed on YouTube are arbitrary and show that the authorities want to control the Internet and those who create it,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If a site has a local representation, it makes it easier for the Turkish judicial authorities to enforce the sanctions they are fond of imposing. This is unacceptable.”

Now singing is a crime

Nine members of a Kurdish childrens choir, aged from 12 to 17, have gone on trial in Turkey. They are facing up to five years in jail for singing a march in Kurdish at a world music festival in San Francisco.

The prosecutors indictment claims the song is the anthem of the PKK.

In a statement on the case, Amnesty International argues that singing a historic anthem cannot be judged a threat to public order - and is therefore a matter of free expression. It warns that the children will be considered prisoners of conscience if they are found guilty.

One of the singers told the BBC the lyrics to the march were in an old form of Kurdish, and he and his friends did not even understand them. He said the choir wanted to showcase Kurdish culture, not engage in politics - and they only sang the march in response to a request from the audience.

Three teenagers, aged 15 to 17, went on trial on Thursday in an adult, serious crimes court in Diyarbakir. Six younger choir-members, aged 12 to 15, will be tried in a childrens court on the same charge in July.

In prison for publishing

Turkish publisher, Ragip Zarakolu has been sentenced to five months in prison for publishing a book by a British author about the mass killing of Armenians in 1915.

He was found guilty of insulting the institutions of the Turkish republic under the notorious Article 301 of Turkeys penal code.

This is the first high-profile verdict to be handed down since the law was reformed, under pressure from the EU to ensure freedom of speech in the country, and confirms campaigners fears that the changes were merely cosmetic.

In April it became a crime to insult the Turkish nation, rather than Turkishness. But insulting the Turkish nation can still be punished by up to two years in jail.

Scared of Singers

Turkish singer, Bulent Ersoy is the latest person to fall foul of the oversensitivty of the countrys leaders.

Back in February, when the army was conducting a major operation against the PKK in northern Iraq, the singer suggested that it was not worth sacrificing soldiers lives in Turkeys conflict with the Kurdish separatist group.

Ms Ersoy has said she will stand by her comments but, if convicted of dissuading people from military service, she faces up to four-and-a-half years in prison. The trial is also likely to scare many others into silence.

Questioning the military can be a risky business in Turkey where Article 318 of the penal code is frequently used by the military against its critics.

Turkish parliament votes to reform Article 301

The Turkish parliament on Tuesday approved a reform of the controversial Article 301 of the countrys penal code which sets limits on freedom of the speech by criminalising insults to Turkishness.

At present the article imposes up to three years in prison for such an insult but, under the reform, the countrys justice minister will have to give his consent on opening investigations on possible violations of this law. It also replaces “insulting Turkishness” with “insulting the Turkish nation” and reduces the maximum sentence to two years - which could be suspended, especially for first-time offenders.

The EU has repeatedly called on Turkey to amend or scrap this part of its penal code as a prerequisite for joining the bloc but critics argue that the changes are purely cosmetic and that freedom of speech will remain limited in Turkey.

What needs to be done is to abolish [Article] 301 altogether, Fatma Kurtulan, a pro-Kurdish party deputy, was quoted as saying by AP.

It would be illusive to believe this amendment designed to please the EU would change anything substantial with regards to free speech, Ms Kurtulan added.

Many Turkish intellectuals and writers have been tried under article 301, including Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered last year.

Insulting liberty

A Turkish court is to hear the case against writer Atilla Yayla, charged with insulting the memory of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He is accused of flouting one of several laws that limits freedom of expression for intellectuals in Turkey.

Professor Yayla was charged with insulting Ataturk - the revered founder of modern Turkey - after appearing on a panel discussion in which he suggested the early Turkish Republic was not as progressive as its painted. The prosecutor in the case is asking for a five-year prison sentence.

The professor, who has been vilified by the Turkish press and suspended from work at an Ankara university, denies the charge of insult and argues that academics must be guaranteed freedom of expression in order to pursue their research.

This hearing comes as the Turkish parliament prepares to debate amending the notorious Article 301 which criminalises insulting Turkishness and which has been used to prosecute dozens of writers and intellectuals, including Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink. The law that criminalises insulting Ataturk, however, is not up for discussion.

Online atheism banned in Turkey

OpEd News (via) reports that Ateizm.org, a prominent non-profit atheist web-site, based in Turkey, was closed down - for the second time - December 2007 on orders from a Turkish court. The site, which was founded in 2000 by three young Turkish atheists, hosts an online discussion board named Ateistforum which is one of the busier destinations for the countrys online community.

Over the years, the site has been the target of several hacking and denial of service attacks - all of which in managed to survive. However, things became more difficult in June 2007 when - without warning - the site was closed to its Turkish audience following a court order issued in response to legal action taken by a Turkish creationist named Adnan Oktar (now widely known by his pen name Harun Yahya). Adnan Oktar is the founder and honorary president of Bilim Araştırma Vakfı (BAV) through which he propogates much of his material. BAV is a frequent target for Ateizm.org which is critical of the creationist group, and which puts a deal of effort into debunkuing its claims.

Since the site is hosted in the US, it remained available internationally but could not be accessed by its Turkish target audience. So the people behind the site changed their domain name - to Ateizm1.org - and kept on going. Until December, when Ateizm.org (then called Ateizm1.org) was closed to Turkish audience for the second time following another court order.

Oktar has a history of turning to the judges to silence his critics. in April 2007 he filed a libel lawsuit against the virtual community Ek$i Sözlük. The court ordered the service provider to close the site to public access and temporarily suspended so that the entry on Oktar could be expunged and locked. In August of the same year, he managed to convince a Turkish court to block internet access to WordPress.com to all of Turkey. His lawyers argued that blogs on WordPress.com contained libelous material on Oktar and his colleague which WordPress.com staff was unwilling to remove.

Turkey bans YouTube. Again

An Ankara court has blocked access (via) to YouTube because of clips deemed disrespectful to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkeys founder. Insulting Ataturk is still illegal in the country.

This is the second time Turkey has tried to ban the site. Back in March access to the site was suspended, also over clips of Ataturk. The ban was lifted after YouTube removed the offending videos.

In September, a court in the eastern city of Sivas also ordered a ban on the site, but this was never implemented.

Creeping conservatism

For more than 30 years Huysuz Virjin (the Petulant Virgin), a cross-dresser with a razor-sharp wit and a merciless tongue, has been winning the affection of millions of Turks. And his TV success has been vaunted as evidence of the tolerance of Turkeys unique mix of Islam and secularism. But not for much longer, it seems (via). For the past year Huysuz Virjin has been replaced by his less exotic self, Seyfi Dursunoglu.

The 76-year-old entertainer claims to have been forced to trade in his trademark blonde wig, silk stockings and sexy gowns for more conventional male garb after Turkeys broadcasting watchdog, the RTUK, put pressure on television stations to ban cross-dressing.

RTUK denies such censorship. But Mr Dursunoglu insists that he is the victim of a creeping conservatism that he believes has infected the country ever since the mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party came to power five years ago. Although he was allowed to appear in drag for a special new-year programme, he says that “as a performer, I am no longer as free”. Similar concerns about artistic freedom and secularism were aired last month by Fazil Say, a Turkish pianist, who accused the AK party of being unfriendly.