‘Dangerous & disproportionate’: Sputnik shutdown in Turkey slammed by OSCE, rights activists

The blocking of Russian news website Sputnik is yet another move by Ankara that raises further concerns about the freedom of expression in Turkey, which already has a bad human rights reputation, international activists say.

"This blocking is only the latest in a series of issues that I have voiced over the years with regard to freedom of expression on the internet in Turkey," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement.

The Russian state news agency's website was abruptly shut down by Turkey on Thursday, with authorities citing "administrative measures" based on Turkey's 5651 internet-regulating law. The final decision on blocking the site will be made by a Turkish court.

The 5651 law is at the root of the problems, the OSCE said, calling on Ankara to reform it.

"Blocking websites is a highly-disproportionate measure. It impedes on the public's right to access information on the internet and negatively impacts media pluralism and free expression," Mijatovic said.

Ankara's blocking of the website is "unacceptable" and yet again seriously violates fundamental human rights and freedoms, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in its official comment on the issue.

"In fact, it continues the policy of growing pressure by Turkish authorities on the media and groundless oppression of journalists," Moscow said, adding that Ankara has been many times criticized by international community for such violations.

The US State Department said it was aware of the situation, but refused to condemn Turkey’s actions as an extension of its crackdown on press freedoms.

“Broadly speaking, we made it very clear our belief in freedom of expression in Turkey and everywhere,” the department’s spokesman John Kirby said in reply to a question from RT, advising that Turkish authorities be consulted on the issue.

Russia’s political relations with Turkey might have influenced the decision of Turkish authorities to block Sputnik in national domain, Reporters Without Borders Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu told RT.

“It's a bad idea to mix media freedom with politics,” he added.

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“The crackdown on media freedom [in Turkey] started years ago. Turkish media has suffered a lot of internet censorship practices,” the acknowledged Turkish media advocate said, adding that "the intervention against Sputnik is the first example of the international media outlet being targeted in Turkey."

"This is a dangerous and disproportionate measure," Önderoğlu said.

The blocking of the Sputnik site is a disappointing, but hardly surprising, action from Turkey’s government, Steven Ellis from the International Press Institute believes.

"They have a long record of shutting down news websites on broad grounds of national security and preventing crime,” Ellis told RT, adding that Turkish government has shut down “thousands and thousands of websites” in recent years.

Perhaps this move has something to do with [President] Erdogan’s wish to enact new constitution which would grant him more power,” Ellis suggested.

Turkish political scientist Tekin Okay told Sputnik Türkiye that access to information is a natural right of citizens, so if journalists are not free to perform their professional duties, a society would be unaware of what is going on within and about it.

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“In any democratic country press freedom is seen as a fundamental and indispensable element of civil rights and freedoms... One shouldn’t expect a country which deprives its residents of freedom of press, to observe other rights and liberties of its people,” Tekin Okay told Sputnik Türkiye.

The reporters and journalists should have a right to comment on the ongoing events in their country, Okay said, adding that such right should be applied to report “first and foremost, on the activity of the government bodies and structures.”

Dogan Özgüden, chief editor of Info-Turk, a non-government information center, described the decision to block Sputnik as “disgusting.”

“As one of the eldest journalists of Turkey, I express my entire solidarity with the website Sputnik and its journalists,” Özgüden said. “It is not astonishing to see Sputnik forbidden in Turkey while many Turkish newspapers and journalists undergo a savage repression when they come against Erdogan’s archaic Islamist orientation.”