* Thousands of websites blocked in Turkey
* Turkey asking Google for $20 million in taxes
* Row sparks questions over freedom of speech
By Thomas Grove
ISTANBUL, June 28 (Reuters) - A Turkish Internet rights group opened a court case on Monday to end what it says are illegal restrictions on Google services, the latest step in a debate over Internet freedom in Turkey.
Turkey has clashed with Google before and closed down Google’s (GOOG.O) video sharing platform YouTube in 2008 for videos it said insulted the country’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Internet advocates say efforts to limit access to the video website have caused illegal restrictions on other Google services such as Google Maps and Google Analytics.
“Millions of Internet users and thousands of companies that use Google services have been victimised,” said the Internet Technologies Association in a statement sent to the court.
The group says access to Google services has slowed down and in some cases became unavailable after Google Internet Protocol (IP) addresses were blocked in an attempt to hinder access to other websites.
The Internet Technology Association opened a court case against Turkey last year at the European Court of Human Rights over the banning of YouTube, one of thousands of Internet sites that are closed in Turkey, a European Union candidate country.
Turkey wants Google to open an office in Turkey and says the Internet giant owes some $20 million in taxes from revenues generated from the video site.
“(YouTube) has entered a fight with the Turkish Republic,” said Communications Minister Binali Yildirim last week.
“No matter how much of a fuss is made, we will not bow our heads,” he said in parliament.
Google representatives in Turkey did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
Turkey’s AK Party government says it has broadened the scope of public debate since taking power in 2002. But curbs on websites have raised concerns. Freedom of speech reforms have ground to a halt in recent years, while the number of closed Internet sites has risen.
As of May 2009 nearly 3,000 Internet sites were closed, according to Turkey’s information technology watchdog, though advocacy groups put the number nearer 5,000.
“There is no one here in Turkey that makes the effort to protect freedom of expression, there are 60,000 different videos about Turkey in YouTube, and ten have been found to be insulting,” said Mustafa Akgul, head of the advocacy group and an Internet expert at Bilkent University in Ankara.
Analysts have criticised the ease with which citizens can apply to have an Internet site closed down, with a form readily available on the information technology board’s website.
Most sites in Turkey closed by court order are due to allegations that they encourage suicide, contain libel, child pornography, help users access drugs or promote prostitution. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)