The Turkish government has launched what appears to be its most comprehensive crackdown on social media Monday, in response to pictures and videos posted online showing a prosecutor taken hostage by leftist terrorists in Istanbul last week.
Hostage Mehmet Selim Kiraz was fatally wounded last Tuesday during a shootout between his two captors – who were also killed – and Turkish security forces.
On Wednesday, a female terrorist from the same group – the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) – was shot dead as she attempted to attack Istanbul’s police headquarters.
The deadly attacks sparked fears by rights groups in Turkey that the Islamist government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would use them as an excuse to further crack down on dissent.
Under Erdogan’s AKP party Turkey has gained notoriety as the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists, and protests against the government by opposition groups are regularly put down forcefully by police. Activists are regularly jailed simply for criticizing Erdogan.
Those fears appear to have been realized Monday as Turkish internet users found themselves unable to access Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. The blanket ban is being billed as a response to disturbing images of Kiraz being held bound, blindfolded and at gunpoint during the hostage standoff, which were posted online by his captors as they issued their demands for his release.
Soon after their publication, a court order demanded authorities block 166 websites which allowed the images to be published, according to the Turkish Hurriyet daily.
On Monday, Hurriyet cited the head of the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK), as saying that the ban on Facebook had been liftted soon after its implementation after the social networking giant removed the offending images.
Although the most comprehensive to date, this isn’t the first ban on social media imposed by Turkey’s AKP government.
In January, it blocked access to all sites which carried the front page of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of Mohammed following the massacre at the magazine’s office by Muslim terrorists.
That same month the government reportedly ordered the closure of all websites which published details of alleged Turkish arms transfers to Sunni Islamist rebels in Syria.
Last year, after briefly banning all access to Twitter, Erdogan himself vowed to “eradicate” the social media site.