The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the judicial body of the Council of Europe, declared this Thursday inadmissible the request of the Wikimedia Foundation (the non-profit association of Wikipedia) to which it denounced in 2019 the blocking suffered by its website. in Turkey since 2017 and what he considers a violation of his right to freedom of expression. The Court of Strasbourg considers that, since the Turkish Constitutional Court admitted the complaint that Wikimedia had then lodged in its country and ordered the unblocking of the site, the Foundation is no longer a victim of the case. The veto took place between 2017 and 2020.
One of Wikimedia’s legal advisors, Stephen LaPorte, said, “We respect the Court’s decision, as our primary goal of restoring access to Wikipedia in Turkey has already been achieved.” Despite this, the Foundation had decided to continue the process to create a good precedent for freedom of expression and to obtain more guarantees in the event of new censorship, whether in Turkey or in any other country. .
In addition to unlocking Wikipedia, the Turkish Constitutional Court had also compensated the Foundation at the end of 2019 for costs and expenses during the process. Strasbourg defends that the Turkish court, by its resolution in favor of Wikimedia, recognized the violation of the right to freedom of expression contained in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the foundation of the Council of the Europe and the ECHR.
In April 2017, the Turkish government asked Wikipedia to remove two articles from its website, citing security concerns. One was titled “State Sponsored Terrorism”; the other, “Foreign involvement in the Syrian civil war”. They gave him a four-hour deadline to block them, but when that deadline expired, the Telecommunications and IT Presidency of Turkey found that only those two pages could not be blocked and proceeded with the blocking. of the entire Wikipedia site in all languages. . .
Wikimedia launched several appeals in national courts and before justices of the peace, until it applied to the Constitutional Court, which until two years later did not resolve the case. When it did, in 2019, it ordered the unblocking of the site, which was eventually reinstated in January 2020. In its statement after learning of Strasbourg’s decision, Wikimedia insisted that the Court European Union has acknowledged that the time of two years and eight months that the Turkish Constitutional Court took to resolve the process can be considered excessive in the future, although it did not condemn it in this specific case.
Wikipedia has been blocked in Turkey for nearly three years. Today, the European Court of Human Rights rejected our request to restore access, as the blockage was lifted in 2020 and determined a violation of human rights in another court. #ForFreeKnowledge https://t.co/E1TejTrbdt
— Wikimedia Foundation (@Wikimedia) March 24, 2022
The resolution came precisely days after the Russian government, as the Turkish government did in its day, asked Wikipedia to remove some articles that discussed the invasion of Ukraine. “Access to knowledge remains under threat around the world, including in Russia,” Wikimedia said in its statement.
The article about the Russian invasion of Ukraine received over three million views in its Russian version, making it the most read article in the past month. Although Wikipedia hopes that the government of Vladimir Putin will not block its website, if this scenario were to occur, it would again face a cascade of litigation to try to regain access to this territory.
Through the complaint before the ECHR, Wikimedia intended, in addition to giving visibility to the censorship suffered for almost three years in Turkey, to obtain a sort of guarantee or precedent in the event that a situation of this type should recur. During the process, he pointed out what he sees as a “systemic problem”, in this case, with the Turkish government. According to his defense, justices of the peace have blocked tens of thousands of websites without effective judicial control and despite convictions for violation of the Constitution.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights himself argued during the trial that “the decisions of the investigating judges are not always in harmony with the case law of the Constitutional Court, which creates a important problem in the constitutional order and for the rule of law of the country, which calls into question the effectiveness of the power of this body as the highest judicial authority”, according to the resolution. Although the Strasbourg Court claims to “take note of these arguments”, it says it does not have “sufficiently relevant elements to suggest that the Constitutional Court of Turkey is not in a position to remedy the alleged systemic problem”.
This type of systematic blocking of web pages has increased in Russia in recent weeks, not only by the media, but also by social networks. Of course, for now, Wikipedia is still operational, and the number of visits to its Russian version has remained stable.
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