Human rights court rules block on YouTube violated freedom of expression

In May 2008, the Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance ordered a block on YouTube on the grounds that the website contained 10 videos that were insulting to the memory of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic.

Arguing that the restriction interfered with the legally guaranteed freedom to receive or impart information and ideas, academics Serkan Cengiz, Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altıparmak challenged the decision at the ECtHR and requested that the measure be revoked. They also claimed that the block had had an impact on their professional academic activities.

The ECtHR decided that the application was legitimate because “the applicants, all academics in different universities, had been prevented from accessing YouTube for a lengthy period of time” and that “the blocking order in question had affected their right to receive and impart information and ideas.” The court also observed that YouTube was a single platform that enabled information of specific interest, particularly on political and social matters, to be broadcast and for citizen journalism to emerge.

In its decision, the ECtHR also said that “there was no provision in the law allowing the domestic courts to impose a blanket blocking order on access to the Internet, and in the present case to YouTube, on account of one of its contents.”

Speaking with Today’s Zaman, Akdeniz said that the ECtHR decision was the outcome of a six-year struggle and that he welcomed the decision. Recalling that he and his colleagues had appealed to the court in their capacity as YouTube users, Akdeniz said that the court has acknowledged that preventing users from accessing information could also be considered a violation of people’s right to information.

Furthermore, the court ruled that although Article 46 of the ECHR stipulates that when a country’s laws contradict the ECHR, they must be changed to fall in line with the ECHR’s legislation, Turkey did not have to change its domestic laws because Article 8a of Law No. 5751 had already been amended.

However, Akdeniz said that this part of the ruling was mistaken. He said that the decision to block YouTube was not taken based on Article 8a, which is notorious for its role in enabling websites to be blocked without a court order, but Article 8, under which access to websites is subject to blocking if there is sufficient suspicion that certain crimes are being committed on a particular website. Thus, Article 46, which would have forced Turkey to adjust its domestic law according to the ECtHR decision, should have been applied.

Akdeniz also said that the academics’ struggle would not end until the domestic law that enables such bans on websites is amended in line with the ECtHR decision.

Access to the YouTube was blocked between May 2008 and Oct. 30, 2010, when the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office lifted the ban following a request from the company owning the copyright to the videos in question.

The Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance rejected the trio’s request on the grounds that the order to block the site had been imposed in accordance with the law and that the applicants did not have standing to challenge such decisions. The Ankara Criminal Court upheld its decision.