Ekşi Sözlük (“Sour Dictionary”, a popular social media website created in Turkey) is a collaborative hypertext ‘dictionary’, based on the concept of Web sites built up on user contribution. However Ekşi Sözlük is not a dictionary in the strict sense; users are not required to write correct information. It is mainly used for entertainment purposes, not for information purposes and the founders already informed that things written in the site might be wrong. It is currently one of the biggest online communities in Turkey with over 400,000 registered users. The number of writers is about 38,000. As an online public sphere, Ekşi Sözlük is not only utilized by thousands for information sharing on various topics ranging from scientific subjects to everyday life issues, but also used as a virtual socio-political community to communicate disputed political contents and to share personal views (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ek%C5%9Fi_S%C3%B6zl%C3%BCk).
A discussion topic last week on the prophet Muhammad caused some tension among the writers of the Ekşi Sözlük. According to reports, somebody filed a complaint to the police accusing some writers of insulting the Prophet and the site owner Sedat Kapanoğlu together with 40 to 50 account holders were charged with the “blasphemy on the religious values of a society fraction” due to their entries on Ekşi Sözlük. The owner Kapanoğlu and the other users are facing prison sentences from 6 up to 12 months.
“The police found my IP address and I was suddenly taken in from my home. I was charged for my comments on religion,” said one of the writers who wanted to remain anonymous. “Everyone on the site has a nickname and we all write anonymously. Therefore, I might have written casually but I didn’t write anything insulting,” said the anonymous source.
The detention sparked varied reactions among the website’s writers and administrators. While some criticized the site “admins” for giving the police the users’ IP addresses, site officials said not doing so would have been against the law. “Some of the writers are furious and have accused us of giving the police their IP address,” Ekşi Sözlük’s founder and owner, Sedat Kapanoğlu, told the Hürriyet Daily News. “Yet, according to the laws, if we don’t give their IP addresses, it is a crime. Our writers write their opinions on the web site anonymously, but by taking them in, the police exposed their identity,” the website’s lawyer Başak Purut told.
Apparently, this is not the first time that Ekşi Sözlük writers have been taken in by the police – Kapanoğlu said he has to testify at least four times a year. But, according to Yaman Akdeniz, a professor who specializes in Internet law, more stringent legal measures must take place before people are taken from their homes on such charges. “This could have been done through a notice from the police. The strange thing here is that the police come and take people from their homes as if they are guilty. There needs to be a court decision to take people in like that,” Akdeniz told. “But such a process is already commonplace” says lawyer Gökhan Ahi who runs Bilişim Hukuk, an online journal of Cyber Law. “Whenever there is a complaint, the prosecutors have to investigate it and then work with the police,” Ahi told. “Yet we might question whether we need the same procedure for every case.”
Akdeniz said that the nature of the procedures created fear amongst the people. “We are talking about a crime realized by thought or writing and this is a right of freedom. There are no guns here. Therefore, they should have been more cautious in interfering with people’s private lives. The current procedures only make people more scared. It is like a witch hunt,” he added.
What constitutes a Web Crime in Turkey?
Since the 2007 passage of article 5651, Turkish law has legally distinguished Internet regulations from those imposed on other media. The law classifies eight violations which can prompt the closing of a website: prostitution, child pornography, gambling, obscenity, promoting suicide, facilitating drug abuse, provision of unapproved substances for health care, and insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, modern Turkey’s founder.
Besides these categories, anyone who thinks that a web site is “suspicious” can call the police. The owner may then be taken in, or the police may confiscate their computer until the case is resolved. Such complaints do not always involve the guilty. “I was taken in by the police just because a teenage guy thought I had blocked his site,” said another Ekşi Sözlük writer, who identifies himself as “Incredible.” “I found his number, called him and he withdrew his complaint. Still, the police kept my laptop for months because it was then a public case.”
Currently there are about 1 million banned websites in Turkey. Among the previously blocked and re-opened sites are YouTube, Google Groups, WordPress, and Dailymotion. “According to Turkish Law, if a person disrupts the public peace, then it constitutes a crime,” said Purut. “In the Ekşi Sözlük case, there was nothing like that.”
Still, the case may affect the behavior of Ekşi Sözlük’s contributors. “Some people have quit writing for Ekşi Sözlük because they don’t want their names in the police files,” Kapanoğlu said. “We won’t apply any censorship but we will try and be more cautious for what may happen again.
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