Twitter ban in Turkey meant to prevent 'character assassination'

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Twitter ban in Turkey meant to prevent 'character assassination'
Turkey's government on Saturday defended its internationally condemned ban on Twitter as a "preventive measure" after the social networking site was awash with recordings highlighting alleged public corruption.

"Twitter has been used as a means to carry out systematic character assassinations by circulating illegally acquired recordings, fake and fabricated records of wiretapping," the prime minister's office of public diplomacy said in a statement sent to AFP in English.

It added that the government was not against the Internet but what it said was "the free circulation of the illegally acquired recordings over Twitter and other social networking sites which aim at hampering national security and the reputation of the citizens."

Turkey took the radical step of blocking access to Twitter on Thursday after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is engulfed in a vast corruption scandal, defiantly vowed to "wipe out" the messaging service.

Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, has also threatened to ban YouTube and Facebook following crucial local elections on March 30, which will be a test of the premier's popularity.

The government said it took a "preventive measure" after the US-based social media giant refused to abide by "hundreds of court rulings" since last January on the removal of content deemed illegal.

(Also see: Turkish president denounces government ban on Twitter)

Critics however claim the government is trying to clampdown on the spread of corruption allegations targeting Erdogan and his inner circle, just ahead of the highly-charged elections.

Erdogan is facing mounting pressure after almost daily audio recordings spread across social media including Twitter purportedly exposed his alleged involvement in corruption.

Some of the most damaging information has come from two Twitter accounts under the names Haramzadeler ("Sons of Thieves") and Bascalan (a pseudonym meaning "Prime Thief" used to ridicule Prime Minister). They appear to have access to a huge trove of secret documents and police wiretaps linked to the investigation.

Voice tapes allegedly portray Erdogan talking with his son about disguising vast sums of money, as well as his interference in business deals, court cases, media coverage and the sale of prime property in Turkey's mega city Istanbul.

Erdogan, who has fiercely rejected the corruption allegations, dismissed most of the recordings as "vile" fakes concocted by his political rivals.

Turkey's clampdown on Twitter sparked outrage and defiance worldwide.

The United States said Friday the ban was "contrary to Turkey's own expressed desire to be a model of democracy".

Shortly after connections were broken, Twitter posted a message reminding users they could get onto the platform through SMS text messaging. A lawyer acting for Twitter also held talks in Ankara with the country's telecommunications authority.

Frustrated Turks meanwhile found ways to tweak a computer's Internet settings to access Twitter.

"I am happy to be on Twitter. I've become a Twitter user at the age of 83 in order to penetrate bans," a Twitter handle @NejlaKoker wrote.

Turkey's government lashed out at Twitter's "indifference" to court orders.

"It is difficult to comprehend Twitter's indifference, and its biased and prejudiced stance; we believe that this attitude is damaging to the brand image of the company in question and creates an unfair and inaccurate impression of our country," according to the government statement.

Ankara urged Twitter and other social networking sites to respect the principle that "whatever is crime in real life is also a crime in cybernet".

Erdogan is known to be not fond of social media as he branded Twitter a "menace" last year for helping to organise mass street protests against his regime.

But the government statement added that his governments "have always valued the Internet and its accompanying opportunities."


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