‘We Will Never Limit Turkish Bloggers’ Freedom of Speech’

WORDPRESS (WP) BOSS MATT Mullenweg has said in a recent interview that he would never limit the right of Turkish bloggers to express themselves. The show of defiance comes amidst the continuing “firestorm of criticism,” as Internet observers have described it, aimed at the ongoing block of WP on Turkish soil. In the interview, published online in Turkish on the Turkish Internet industry portal turk.internet.com, the 23-year-old WP founder developer estimates that there are some 20 to 30 thousand bloggers in Turkey affected by the ban. Turkish and expat bloggers, as well as their regular readers, have been greeted with the message that the entire WP site “has been suspended in accordance with [court] decision no: 2007/195,” since the private-but-monopoly Turk Telekom telephone company enforced the court order over two weeks ago. The controversial nationwide block — arriving in the wake of the ruling pro-EU and Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) recent electoral successes, in both a general and presidential election — stems from a private “defamation” lawsuit brought by Islamic cult leader Adnan Oktar. The lawyers acting on behalf of the notorious “Adnan Hodja” — no stranger himself to Turkish press headlines often ranging from sex scandals to blackmail of famous figures — have inexplicably managed to get the Turkish legal system to block all WP blogs, instead of targeting the alleged few which slander their client.

An English translation* of the Matt Mullenweg interview on turk.internet.com, by Fusun S. Nebil (first published in Turkish on Aug. 28, 2007) appears below.

turk.internet.com.: Could you give us some brief information about WordPress?

Matt Mullenweg: WordPress.com has started to get a lot of attention recently. It gets 72 million visitors to its blogs every month. The number of page views it has per month is 300 million. Its content varies, everything ranging from CNN coverage of the American presidential election to humorous sites about cats, such as http://www.icanhascheezburger.com.

t.i.c.: We know you also have Turkish bloggers. Could you tell us about them?

M.M.: We’ve got 20 to 30 thousand Turkish bloggers. Before our site was blocked, we had 12 million page views per month for the Turkish blogs. At the moment, and if the block continues, we have 250 thousand views per month.

t.i.c.: What do you think of this block?

M.M.: I think it’s very sad. Maybe US laws are different from Turkish ones, but each WordPress.com blog has its own domain. For that reason, instead of the whole site they could’ve blocked the ones relating to that law. Now they have done this, thousands of innocent bloggers are silenced as well.

t.i.c.: Are you thinking of doing anything to challenge this?

M.M.: We aren’t thinking of what we are going to do, but what we are not going to do. We are never going to limit our Turkish bloggers’ freedom of speech.

t.i.c.: And one last question. What do you think on the future of Web 2.0?

M.M.: Blogs have just started becoming popular. Especially in European and Asian countries, where every month page views are doubling. I think no free person would deny the importance of blogs.

t.i.c. Note: WordPress.com continues to be blocked because the company has no lawyers or representatives in Turkey. Due to this, there are no plans to challenge the ban as there is no one to appeal against the court ruling.

* Translation by İstanbul Despatch

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13 thoughts on “‘We Will Never Limit Turkish Bloggers’ Freedom of Speech’

  1. Okay, Matt thinks that only the offending blogs could have been blocked selectively. This, I record as a “technically possible” checkmark next to my initial assumption to the same effect.

    Re: his answer to the question “Are you thinking of doing anything to challenge this?”

    “We aren’t thinking of what we are going to do, but what we are not going to do. We are never going to limit our Turkish bloggers’ freedom of speech.”

    This is a little empty, or if I have to be more restrained about it, it is indicative of WP’s calculating that, in this dispute, little is at stake for them (12M Turkish page views correspond to 4% of the total 300M they get monthly). Meanwhile, Turkish bloggers’ freedom of speech is being limited due to WP’s inaction among other things, such as a ham-fisted law, or a less-than-considerate court and bureaucracy that don’t care much for freedom of speech as the first thing to be protected, or for the intricacies of the Net. I do not mean, though, a free service provider can be expected to wage a legal war for freedoms of its non-paying users. For that, there should be enough for them to lose also…

    In that France vs. Yahoo case, which Bulent linked to before, an initially defiant Yahoo eventually surrendered for two reasons: (1) their technical impossibility excuse (for not blocking the materials denying the Holocaust from being sent to France) was proven false, and, to wit, (2) they had assets in France that would have been jeopardized by a negative verdict against them.

    It is also interesting that virtually no one among those willing to speak about all this appears to be also willing to look at those offending Edip Yuksel blogs to see what the libel claim is all about. I know why I don’t do this: because I don’t care at this stage… There is a court decision that indicates a finding to the effect that they are indeed libelous. And to me, the freedom of speech/listening question doesn’t automatically arise from the demand that they be removed, but from the overreaching total ban for all WP blogs. Granted Bulent has made valid general comments about the former demand, but to me, the latter, i.e., the total ban, constitutes an overriding and more urgent problem here. Conflating the two is not going to help bring a quick relief, I am afraid.

    It is disappointing that Matt is not willing to discern these two issues. It is refreshing at the same time to see the old and foolhardy ‘free Internet’ spirit in his response so far. But let’s leave the young free service provider alone. I am curious as to what, within Turkey, could be used as grounds for an appeal against this injunction.

    — All WP blogs need not have been blocked; only the offending ones could be blocked selectively. (With competent representation of public interest, the sympathy of an appropriate court could be won for this. A. Oktar or the Turk Telekom bureaucrats might be in the business of teaching lessons to this or that, but a Turkish court, I’d like to assume, would not like to be a tool of that.)

    — According to the law (5651), libel is not among grounds for censoring a site. So, as we asked before, what gives? (Even though this Oktar prosecution could have relied on other laws, the spirit of this new law to kick in a matter of months in full could be invoked, in conjunction with the previous point. Also, the language of this new law does imply as narrow a punishment as possible, which can be invoked to support the previous point.)

    What else? Apart from the question of who the hero might be to take it upon him/herself to pursue such appeal in the public interest… Sad, but in Turkey, this needs a hero. I bet, here in the US, some public prosecutor would feel it to be his/her duty to appeal such a blunt injunction.

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  2. Jim,

    One point of yours I didn’t address before (in the CNN thread)… You were saying Oktar’s attorneys basically spammed the WordPress inbox, it wasn’t proper communications. That might all be true. I don’t ascribe noble intentions to Oktar or his attorneys. All things considered, this is a knee-jerk stunt on their part. But also, things are liable to escalate in such legal battles, depending on either side’s feeling slighted by the other. A t.i.c. article on a meeting about the law 5651 claims that Oktar’s attorneys requested the blocking of the entire wordpress.com domain, which is not surprising, but do we know if they were in such a vengeful mode from the beginning? For one thing, we can safely assume A. Oktar is not ignorant about the Internet or the blogging phenomenon. I think, he would know better, and prefer not to create victims out of innocent bloggers.

    Another point… After some thinking on the closing thoughts of my previous comment… What if a hero manages to get this total ban lifted thru a court appeal in Turkey? Relatively more quickly, say, than a legislative rectification. This would serve not only the Turkish public interest, but the interests of WordPress as well. For the currently affected WordPress users, the bulk of whom may care more about returning to business asap more than about fighting the good fight, would have no reason to shop for a new free service provider.

    Hmm! Might that be a factor that decreases the size of the potential hero population in Turkey? The my-hands-off attitude of WordPress is also looking a bit tenuous to me now… But again, only 4% of their page-view bottomline is at stake. Oh well…

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  3. Nihat,

    So many points, so little time! But I’m gonna try as many as possible in semi-coherent fashion. What I didn’t realise until now is that you are in the US. Is that correct? (I could check your IP, but I’m just being lazy!)

    This gist of your two comments above is that WP and Matt are being a little hands off on such an important issue. I agree. That interview was a lacking somewhat. Also, as you can see, we (well, my wife) translated it from Turkish. And it was probably conducted in English in the first place! (I doubt Matt speaks Turkish, yani!) And I’m thinking that some of what he said was lost in the two-time translation (English to Turkish to English). What I mean by that is not that the message was different, but maybe some emphasis was lost. Perhaps he was more volatile in some answers. For example, when he said: “For that reason, instead of the whole site they could’ve blocked the ones relating to that law,” I’m sure he added some “only” or “just”, as in: “For that reason, instead of the whole site they could’ve JUST blocked ONLY the ones relating to that law.”

    Whatever, it’s probably a moot point. If t.i.c had just published it in English — and they do have English pages — it would’ve saved us a lot of trouble. I just thought it was an important piece of news (my ethos on this whole subject is to make as much noise as possible so eventually the mainstream press takes note…more on that later). Matt could’ve also done us a favor and stuck the interview on his Turkey update on Photo Matt… but, what the heck, I seem to be inadvertently developing a role here.

    But in essence, yes. They could be far more pro-active on this. I’ve been asking questions of Matt through various avenues (e-mail, Facebook petition on WP block), but the only successful one was on Photo Matt where he replied to my question about how the lawyers had written their gloating warning to the Internet — i.e., in Turkish or English — and he replied it was as it appeared there, in badly written English, and also revealed that they spammed the emails.

    Maybe, in their defense, they (WP) are too busy managing WP across the globe to pay constant attention to this. Maybe. But nonetheless… it deserves more attention from them. And I’ve even asked questions along the lines of what’s your plan man… (awaiting moderation that one!). And on that score, I’m beginning to sound as frustrated as Oktar’s lawyers! :)

    But back to the meatier stuff — re: the Yahoo/Nazi memorabilia topic of some years back. I do remember that when it happened, though not running a blog at the time. Another complex one, and for me along the “insult to Atatürk” youTube line… In other words, the Holocaust in Europe — especially France who were invaded/ruled by the Nazis in WWII — is a thorny issue. Capitulation by Yahoo, probably because of assets (your second point) — because money always talks the loudest — was what swung it. But there were French laws against this kind of thing (promoting the Nazis), which, for me, equals the “crimes against Atatürk” (Law 5816 of the Turkish Penal Code) causing the youTube ban. Again, I don’t mean I approve of this (French or Turkish law) when it inhibits freedom of speech (not sure if freedom to sell memorabilia fits in there? :)), it’s sad but, IMO, understandable. State law. Personally, I think all denying/admitting genocide laws should be scrapped everywhere — Germany, France, and, yes, Turkey, be they on denial of the Holocaust or whether the Armenian Genocide happened (France — first draft — and maybe the US soon) or didn’t (Turkey). Leave it to the historians to decide, and public common sense to decide. The fools who counter massive historical evidence should just be laughed at — not made martyrs of by banging them in jail. (Same for Oktar’s vicious brand of creationism).

    Bit of a tangent there… sorry. Like I said, so many points… and I’ve lost my thread. But let’s jump back to WP/Matt. That initial letter from AO’s lawyers ALSO states that they did send a proper snail mail letter (no doubt in Tarzan English). Did WP/Matt ever receive it? I’d like to know that. It’s a case for defense in not being duly notified, alongside the spam, if this damn thing ever gets challenged (by WP, or your notion of a hero… more on that soon).

    Something else. I noticed in my travels across the ‘Net that Oktar’s lawyers claim to have ordered (via the courts) that ONLY the offending blogs be blocked, but then… well, here’s the full quote:

    “Kerim Kalkan, a lawyer for Oktar said that the court first ordered Turk Telecom to block a couple of specific sites but the authors of the sites soon moved the allegedly libelous content to other WordPress sites.

    ‘It was when this happened that we applied to the court to order that all websites of WordPress be blocked,’ Kalkan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

    Kalkan said the court first ordered that WordPress be blocked on August 13 and that Turk Telecom implemented the order on August 17. ‘We have also sent messages to other blog hosting sites and if the libellous content moves to them we will again apply to the courts to have those blocked also,’ Kalkan said. ”

    This is from Monsters and Critics, dated Mon. Aug. 20, under the headline “Turkey bans WordPress blogs after alleged libel of Islamic writer.”

    Before I give out the link, a few puzzling questions:

    Did WP/Matt receive notice (spammed emails or otherwise) about the first court order to only block the few “libelous sites”?

    If they did, it was probably as unintelligible as everything else they received. If not, fair game, because it wasn’t the whole site anyway… but then the writers of the “libelous” material moved to other WP sites, so the lawyers had no choice but to get a court order to block the whole WP site… i.e., it was the only way they could control it.

    Makes the lawyers sound reasonable doesn’t it? OK. This is where I have serious problems. The ban came into effect on Fri. Aug. 17. Matt released the lawyer’s letter on WP on Sun. Aug. 19. This article on Monsters & Critics appeared on Mon. Aug. 20. Here is my problem: This article had to before written BEFORE Monday, to be posted on Monday. (Or very early Monday morning at the earliest. ) THERE HAS BARELY BEEN ANY PRES ATTENTION ON THIS! The first article in the Turkish mainstream press appeared in Sabah and only on their Web site on the same day, Aug. 20, and was pretty much what we already knew (from the lawyer letter) — http://arsiv.sabah.com.tr/2007/08/20/haber,038934EDA4164015BD61B56DEE30AB4E.html — the only other news item I am aware of is in Radikal — http://www.radikal.com.tr/ek_haber.php?ek=sa&haberno=3650 — which appeared one week later, and pretty much says “Adnan Hoca does it again” and gives very little information.

    SO, until Monday Aug. 20 their was NO Turkish press interest. Sabah caught onto it with little extra to add. Radikal one week later, with very little. The rest of the world’s press was and is still completely ignoring it! So WTF made Monsters & Critics or, in particular, the German (??) news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa pick up on it and in such detailed fashion?! An exclusive interview with one of the lawyers, with lots of info about what happened… only 3 days after the ban came into effect! Minus one for writing the damn thing (I worked for a newspaper once – these things have to be written the day before, actually). That makes only two days, during which there was NO press coverage anywhere — on paper or online — and it had to be written — at the latest; bare in mind an interview took place as well — on the very same day as Matt/WP posted the lawyer letter.

    Get my drift? What made them (the news agency) think it was a hot news item? Even WP bloggers, myself included, didn’t know what was going on and hadn’t even found out that AO was behind this until the same day this article was (at the latest written).

    And one more dodgy detail: The story is datelined Ankara (i.e., it was supposedly written there). But the lawyers are based in Istanbul (it’s written at the bottom of that infamous letter).

    My point? In the UK we call it spin/damage limitation.

    Okay, maybe I’m being paranoid… been in Turkey too long etc. But if you check the Deutsche Presse-Agentur Web site — http://www.dpa.de/en/produkte/index.html — this news item is not there. In fact, one has to buy/order the news from them as they don’t publish any news on their site. As the site says, they offer a “tailor-made service.” News to go, sir? How would you like that? “Reasonable lawyer” packaging, sir? Certainly sir. Even the headline is too “nice” for my liking: “Turkey bans WordPress blogs after alleged libel of Islamic writer.” At least the comments below the article are on form. Oh, the link:

    http://tech.monstersandcritics.com/news/article_1345401.php/Turkey_bans_Wordpress_blogs_after_alleged_libel_of_Islamic_writer

    Right, I’ve written too much already… one more thing. I read a lot of the Edip Yuksel stuff. He’s a Kurd, too, and written critical work on the military/Kurdish issue (so he says) so no wonder he’s in exile. I can’t get my head around all the Islamic reform thinking… it’s way beyond me, and I have no time or inclination to go there. As for the”slander,” to be honest, despite it’s highly personal “I-know-these-things” style, a lot of what he says can be found in the archives of Sabah, Hurriyet and other big Turkish papers with Web sites. It just needs a lot of looking for (and knowledge of Turkish!). Yuksel writes that he would gladly appear in a slander trial from Oktar any day, and that he could back up his claims with material evidence and media reports. Well, speaking as someone who writes articles and tries to substantiate as much as possible with hyperlinks — i.e., a good citizen journalist, I hope — Yuksel could do himself, and the rest of us trying to get to the bottom of this, a BIG favor by providing some LINKS to news pages to BACK UP his claims… If it’s already in the Turkish mainstream press of yesteryear, it’s hardly slander… And I have seen plenty of these news articles myself, with just the briefest of translations from my wife… Just key in Adnan Oktar (or Hoca) in any of the news sites I’ve just mentioned. There is TONS of it there, and all along the lines of what Yuksel is saying — but his is in rather more subjective style.

    Okay. The “hero” thing — We are totally on the same page there. I’m going off the radar here and going to send you an email…

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  4. Jim, yes, I am in the States.

    Re: Spin/damage limitation

    Your commentary on the press coverage of this issue is interesting to say the least. I hadn’t looked at the events in such a detective-like fashion. I probably wouldn’t have asked any questions you’re asking here even if I had seen the detailed German press coverage early on vis-a-vis the still sleeping Turkish & foreign press. I am somewhat prejudiced about the Turkish press: they would sometimes pick up stories relating to Turkish affairs after the Western press covers them sufficiently. If the Western coverage is disparaging or ill-informed, that helps tremendously in getting their attention. But by then it’s too late for an informed discussion of the actual issue in the Turkish media; now, we’ve gotta refute the Western coverage, how biased they always are, etc.

    Re: France vs. Yahoo

    … and that case’s similarities to the present Turkey vs. WordPress case (which admittedly didn’t unfold as such), I didn’t mean to suggest similarities to be one-to-one. But it goes without saying that WordPress would have taken this case more seriously had they had some physical presence in Turkey.

    I am with you re: saying ‘no’ to criminalizing expression of certain thoughts and ideas, unless maybe these thoughts are along the lines of “death to infidels” or some such call for committing crimes.

    Your insight about Edip Yuksel material is duly noted, too. Especially the point that most things that he could have possibly written to offend Oktar have presumably appeared also in mainstream Turkish media outlets. Not only is this probably true, but it adds to the mystery surrounding this ban as well. I am becoming more convinced by the day that the Fatih court was not enlightened to all aspects of the issue (not only re: the Net-related considerations, range of technical measures, etc., but also re: the libel-or-not deliberations). Repeating one of my earlier questions: was there ‘any’ defense in that court during the hearings?

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  5. Jim, re: emailing me, please let me know if you do so and get no response within a day. I just turned on a spam filter for email accounts at our domain (upon the request of other users), and I don’t trust this filter.

    Also, at photomatt.net, a gentleman named Daniel insists on lecturing me on the principles of freedoms, who should fight where, etc. Have I anywhere sounded off as though I believe that Matt is obligated to engage in a legal battle in Turkey? Or, that he is the prime responsible party in this outcome? I am asking here because Daniel says he read my comments here, and continues his lecturing thus.

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  6. Jim,
    While you are perfectly correct to be extremely cynical about the dpa story you have no need to be as I wrote that story. To clear your concerns.

    Timeline wise.
    I was first alerted to the block on Mon. Aug. 20 thanks to a forum for expats in Turkey. Messages were going left right and centre, none of which made sense. I then used a proxy to get to the wordpress blog concerning the issue where I saw the letter sent to Matt by Kerim Kalkan.

    After reading all 70-odd comments. I went back to the original letter sent to Matt by Kalkan and saw that it had Kalkan’s telephone number. Bingo, all I had to do was ring the bloke up and asked him for the dates of the block. ie that the court had ordered the whole domain be blocked on August 13 and it was implemented on August 17.

    So this was about 4:30 pm (Turkish time) Monday afternoon. I filed my story at about 5:30 pm and it went straight out onto the wires. Remember we are a wire service and our stuff goes “live” pretty much as soon as we file.
    The Monsters and Critics website (a subscriber to the dpa English service) had it on their site not much later. A few newspapers around the world picked it up (I was surprised at how few, I truly thought this was a big big story). I wrote the story in English and it was also sent out in German and it was apparently picked up by quite a few German papers.

    The story has also popped up on a few blogs, such as yours.

    As for why you could not find it on the dpa site, we only sell our service, we do not put stuff up on the net.

    It was a few days later that Kalkan issued a formal press statement.

    As for the criticism of the headline… yeah. I get your point but we are a wire service and we can’t really go for sensational headlines. The same goes for the rest of the piece, we have to try and be neutral with our news stories.

    As a blogger myself, on blogspot, I had hoped that the story might have at least got the ball rolling and subsequently be followed up extensively in the Turkish press. It hasn’t though.

    I have also attempted to stay neutral on the whole matter as I believe it is really the job of the Turkish press, Turkish bloggers and readers to get this changed. I just reported the facts.

    By the way, enjoying the discussion here.
    Cheers

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  7. Dear Oz (or is it Chris?)

    Thanks wholeheartedly for clearing that up! I mean it. It only become more of a mystery to me as time went by and, as you so correctly write, the Turkish (and elsewhere) mainstream press took little/no note. To be honest, I only pieced together the timeline aspect of it as I was writing back to Nihat there, which increased my skepticism alongside the hindsight view of “where’s the rest of the press?” on this story… A very hot story too, IMO!… but I reckon they’ll catch up eventually. It has all the potential… as long as there’s enough of us making noises down here in the blogosphere.

    Also, such is the nature of the wonderful Web 2.0 comment facility, my angle rose spontaneously out of a personal rant. Yes, I was cynical. A little less so now, thanks to you. The best thing about posting “news” this way is that you find yourself moderating your own view as feedback comes through, and healthy debate springs out of it. Way back at the beginning, when I saw your dpa piece, I was a little tempted to build a story out of it but soon realised that it smacked more of subjective paranoia on my part, rather than objective citizen-based journalism, which is my purpose here. Hence, I never put anything together on it. And there were far more (and still are) important aspects to focus on. Like I wrote in the middle of all that, “Maybe I’m being paranoid… been in Turkey too long etc.”, obviously that was the case in light of your detailed timeline. (The “etc” was to stop myself typing “deep state”!)

    So apologies for any offence caused. I too am trying to stay objective and admire your stance for that reason. I think I’m achieving that with the “news” posts. It’s in the comments and the ongoing dialogue that I let myself go in the context of the debate… as I said, such is the nature of the comment box! And, on the context tip, it’s also quite a toughie remaing neutral being one of the 20-30 thousand innocents caught up in this block (i.e., changing proxies, DNS etc. just to access my own blog).

    As for the headline business: Point totally taken. As I wrote to Nihat, I worked for a newspaper here in Turkey, so I am fully aware of the necessity of the wires remaining neutral. All I can say is I compliment you on spotting the value of the story so soon and getting it out so far ahead of the game… If only the mainstream where so quick and on it!

    By the way, it would be useful for future reports to know which German newspapers have picked up on this. Can you provide any links? I’ll be sure to include it somewhere along the line. I’ve only been monitoring the English and Turkish press (with serious help from my wife on the latter). My German is next to nothing, but I’ll certainly reference any press on this to keep the ball rolling for the sake of grabbing attention.

    Oh, and apologies for taking so long to approve your comment (I saw your other comments on that, of course). I was away from my desk, so to speak, for a couple of days.

    Thanks for dropping by. I’m still amazed at the quality of commentary and discussion that is springing up here. I’m certainly going to pay your blog a visit. Keep in touch.

    Respect :)

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  8. Oz, I didn’t know you were a soldier in the press corps… That gives at least two journalists here in this forum interested in this story, and that is encouraging. There is a law regarding real and legal (tuzel) persons’ right to seek information from Turkish state institutions. I am not sure if this covers the judiciary, like the Fatih court, or Turk Telekom. But isn’t there a lawyer friend or somebody who you can similarly call to find out what can be done to get more substantial information on all this? I mean, from a perspective free from Oktar’s attorneys’ mediation.

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