VIENNA Europe's main security and human rights watchdog said on Monday that Turkey was blocking some 3,700 Internet sites for "arbitrary and political reasons" and urged reforms to show its commitment to freedom of expression.
Milos Haraszti, media freedom monitor for the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said Turkey's Internet law was failing to preserve free expression in the country and should be changed or abolished.
"In its current form, Law 5651, commonly known as the Internet Law of Turkey, not only limits freedom of expression, but severely restricts citizens' right to access information," Haraszti said in a statement.
He said Turkey, a European Union candidate, was barring access to 3,700 Internet sites, including YouTube, GeoCities and some Google pages, because Ankara's Internet law was too broad and subject to political interests.
"Even as some of the content that is deemed 'bad', such as child pornography, must be sanctioned, the law is unfit to achieve this. Instead, by blocking access to entire websites from Turkey, it paralyzes access to numerous modern file-sharing or social networks," Haraszti said.
"Some of the official reasons to block the Internet are arbitrary and political, and therefore incompatible with OSCE's freedom of expression commitments," he said. Asked about the OSCE remarks, a Turkish transport and communications ministry official who asked not to be named told Reuters: "Turkey provides unlimited and equal access for all parts of society. It is above the EU average on this issue.
"The regulations over Internet have a dynamic structure and necessary legal changes are made when problems are detected in implementation," the official added.
Haraszti said Turkish law was still failing to safeguard freedom of expression, and numerous criminal code clauses were being used against journalists, who risked being sent to jail as a result.
Fears for press freedom in Turkey have risen following state attempts to collect a $3.3 billion fine from major media group Dogan in a tax row, part of pressure on Dogan to obey a law limiting foreign ownership of Turkish firms.
In October, the European Commission's annual report on Turkey's progress toward EU membership urged Turkey to treat Dogan fairly and said Ankara needed to do more to protect freedom of expression and the press.
(Additional reporting by Hatice Aydogdu in Ankara; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Noah Barkin)