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Twitter Goes to Court to Challenge Service Ban in Turkey

The microblogging service filed petitions to overturn the ban in the country immediately.

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After more than a week of strife between the Turkish government and its citizens, Twitter on Wednesday challenged a series of court orders prompted by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that have served to block the microblogging service in the country for nearly a week.

In conjunction with an independent Turkish attorney, Twitter filed a series of petitions for lawsuits in Turkish courts, challenging court orders that Erdogan’s party used to force the national telecommunications agency to block Twitter nationwide.

The ban, according to Twitter, rests primarily on the justifications made in three separate court orders: Two orders concern content that Twitter has already removed from the service. But the third order is levied at an anonymous user accusing Erdogan of corruption charges; the tweet in question included audio files that allegedly featured Erdogan and other officials engaged in criminal acts.

“This order causes us concern,” Twitter General Counsel Vijaya Gadde said in a company blog post. “Political speech is among the most important speech, especially when it concerns possible government corruption. That’s why today we have also petitioned the Turkish court on behalf of our users to reverse this order.”

Twitter’s move is another in a history of defending user rights in countries that have traditionally censored free speech by its citizens. The company typically refuses to remove tweets unless they specifically violate Twitter’s terms of service or are against the law in specific regions.

In some instances, Twitter will deploy a Country Withheld Content tool that blocks the viewing of certain tweets in a region, but makes them available to the rest of the world — it’s a compromise that circumvents outright censorship while cooperating with local laws. Twitter has used its Country Withheld Content tool on the tweets challenged by the third court order.

“With all announced bases for the access ban addressed, there are no legal grounds for the blocking of our service in Turkey,” Gadde wrote.

The ban came in the run-up to crucial local elections in Turkey that could unseat officials in Istanbul and Ankara, two areas in which Erdogan’s leading AK party is fiercely campaigning. The Twitter ban could serve to keep dissidents and opposition party activists at bay, at least on the social network.

“With positive developments today concerning judicial review of this disproportionate and illegal administrative act of access banning the whole of Twitter, we expect the government to restore access to Twitter immediately so that its citizens can continue an open online dialogue ahead of the elections to be held at the end of this week,” Gadde wrote.

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