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Twitter Wins Small Victory in Turkish Court, Though Service Still Blocked Country-Wide

A small win for Twitter in an ongoing struggle with the Turkish government over free speech.

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A Turkish court on Friday overturned a ruling that restricted the viewing of a controversial Twitter account from Turkish citizens, representing a small yet significant win for political activists in the country.

The account in question, which has been maintained by an anonymous user or set of users, posted a series of tweets containing audio and video clips to the account in recent weeks, which claimed to contain evidence of corruption and acts of bribery by top government officials, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Everyone has the right to express their thoughts and in all possible ways they wish,” the ruling from the Turkish court said. “Governmental bodies should avoid all acts and actions which restrict such freedom of people.”

Weeks ago, through a series of court orders, Erdogan forced the national telecommunications service to ban the use of Twitter throughout all of Turkey, claiming that the service was being “used as a means to carry out systematic character assassinations by circulating illegally acquired recordings, fake and fabricated records of wiretapping,” according to a statement made by the Prime Minister’s office.

While Friday’s decision did not overturn the ban in Turkey, it will allow users who are able to circumvent the government’s blocking attempts to see the anonymous account. Previously, Twitter deployed its Country Withheld Content tool to restrict the visibility of the account in question from Turkish users only; the account is now visible to anyone using the service around the world.

Twitter is positioning the decision as a coup in a battle with Turkish authorities in the ruling AK party that has been drawn out for weeks.

“This decision is an exceptionally strong win for freedom of expression, and it will be of paramount value for us in protecting Twitter’s users against other attempts at censorship in the future,” Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde said in a company blog post.

Yet the issue of the country-wide ban of the microblogging service remains unsettled. It comes at a critical time, just days before a series of critical local elections that could unseat members of Prime Minister Erdogan’s ruling AK party.

The races in cities like Istanbul and Ankara, for instance, are especially tight, and could be swayed by activists rallying voters via social media channels. Activists have aimed to influence voters who have remained on the fence over the corruption and bribery allegations seen in today’s unblocked Twitter account.

Turkish officials also blocked YouTube in parts of the country on Thursday, another repository for audio clips and videos alleging government corruption. Facebook has yet to be blocked in Turkey, and Turkish officials signaled that the country did not intend to do so.

“We will continue to fight to have the ban lifted on behalf of the millions of people in Turkey who have come to rely on Twitter as a vital communications tool,” Twitter’s Gadde said.

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