Turkey uses emergency decree to shut down internet on 11 Kurdish cities to ‘prevent protests’

Turkey’s government on Thursday cut mobile and landline internet access in 11 cities in the southeast area of the country for the second day in a row.

The decision came after locals took the streets in protest over Diyarbakır’s co-mayors, Gültan Kışanak and Fırat Anlı, being detained on “terrorism” charges.

According to a report by censorship monitoring group @TurkeyBlocks, Wednesday’s regional shutdown had started around 10am local time and lasted for 12 hours, covering 11 cities: Diyarbakır, Mardin, Batman, Siirt, Van, Elazığ, Tunceli, Gaziantep, Şanlıfurfa, Kilis and Adıyaman.

Today’s shut down covers the same cities, but started earlier, around 8am local, and is currently ongoing. According to Turkey Blocks’ initial research, the regional internet shutdown makes 8 percent of Turkey’s internet infrastructure unreachable and affects an estimated 6 million citizens. The shutdown does not affect phone calls, but banks and point-of-sale machines on local shops and pharmacies were reported inoperable. Some Turkish citizens had to travel to neighbouring cities to conduct urgent businesses that require internet access.

The internet shutdown violated the right to information most, effectively blocking news updates about the wide unrest in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast. Reporters from the region resorted to pre-internet practices.

Reuters photographer Sertaç Kayar was only able to post photos from Wednesday in the evening after reaching internet connection.

Videos of police violence against human rights defenders and members of parliament from Kurdish opposition party HDP took hours to reach news agencies.

Local Diyarbakır journalist Nurcan Baysal traveled out of the city this morning to report about the protests on Twitter by receiving updates over the phone from her colleagues who remain in the city center.

Kurdish news Sterk TV reporters could only broadcast the voice of HDP’s co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş speaking at the protests, without being able to broadcast 3G video feed. His speech among thousands of protesters took six more hours to reach social media.

While many researchers and journalists associate the internet shutdown with the protests, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş rejected that it is related to Diyarbakır mayor Gültan Kışanak’s detention; without providing an explanation, Mr. Kurtulmuş said, “social media should not be used for provocations.”

The network operators, however, even denied there was an intentional shutdown. After customer complaints, support lines of two largest operators, Turk Telekom and Turkcell, claimed technical failures, providing no prospect of a fix.

Back in September, the Daily Dot reported another regional shutdown, which lasted for six hours but covered a larger area and affected 12 million people. That shutdown was also issued after a political crisis after 28 mayors from the Kurdish opposition were removed from their offices. However, the sources of the shutdowns and legal grounds were not revealed, until now.

Deniz Çiçek, a reporter from daily Habertürk, wrote that the current two-day-long regional internet shutdown is requested by the Directorate of Security Affairs —an office under the prime minister. The request is based on a post-coup Decree Law (No.671 – PDF) that amends the Law of Digital Communications and authorizes Turkey’s government to take “any necessary measure” on the grounds of “national security, public order, prevention of crime, protection of public health and public morals, or protection of the rights and freedoms.” The same decree obliges any company that provides digital communications, including cable or cellular network providers, to enforce government’s orders within two hours.

The Daily Dot previously reported the Turkish government’s wartime censorship regulation being abused to gag social media after domestic attacks on civilians that could lead to mass criticism of government incompetence. This post-coup amendment provides extended powers to the government to silence the masses, which are presently used to prevent protests in the Kurdish regions.

According to Brookings Institute research, internet shutdowns cost Turkey $35 million last year. Last month, developers and entrepreneurs were hit hardest when the government banned access to cloud services. But right now, the Turkish government’s real target, journalists and the freedom of information, is suffering the most.

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